After The Human Rights Campaign released its 2021 annual Corporate Equality Index, WTR spoke to a number of featured firms to discuss what made them rank as a ‘Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality’. They also invited some firms to provide a deeper inside look at their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) policies. In this article, Finnegan’s chief recruitment and professional development officer, Tim Henderson, provides in-depth insight into the firm’s approach to DE&I.
“In the face of adversity, we have a choice. We can be bitter, or we can be better,” says author and attorney Caryn Sullivan – and oh, what adversity we have faced in the last year. A global pandemic threatened our economic, professional and personal futures; racial injustice ignited a global outcry for change; and internal and external forces threatened to topple our democratic systems. At the outset of the covid-19 outbreak, Finnegan vowed to view these crises as an opportunity to come together and not only reiterate, but enhance, the core values that have made the firm a unique workplace for its 55-plus-year history: a laser-like focus on the importance of DE&I at all levels of the firm’s operations, to include its governance; teamwork; and compassion for the individual and our communities.
Finnegan is a global IP-only firm. This means that over 90% of our attorney-type personnel possess some sort of science or engineering background, many of them having earned a PhD in their fields. While Finnegan has many initiatives for DE&I to build a diverse (defined to include women, attorneys of colour and LGBTQ+ attorneys) bench, the talent, promotional and leadership pool we draw from tends to be limited from the outset by the underrepresentation of diverse candidates in STEM.
Notwithstanding the constraints imposed by the already-limited STEM pool, approximately 40% of our current associate pipeline is diverse, and we continue to work diligently to enhance the diversity of our future associate classes. For instance, in Summer 2020 roughly 70% of our summer class was diverse. We anticipate that our Summer 2021 class will be equally diverse.
We are committed to continuing to hire a diverse pipeline of associates. We have launched partnerships with women’s engineering and science professional associates at historically diverse engineering and science undergraduate and graduate programmes to educate diverse students regarding careers in IP law. We also cast a wide net in our search for identifying and hiring qualified diverse law students into our associate ranks.
While we are pleased with our hiring successes, we also understand that the ‘proof is in the pudding’ when it comes to retaining and promoting diverse talent.
In 2020, the unthinkable, tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, coupled with the impact of covid-19 on communities of colour, ignited a global outcry for change. In the wake of these events, Finnegan launched a series of Employee Voice Sessions, during which subject-matter experts facilitated online employee focus groups to allow real-time conversations about racial injustice. These sessions were supplemented by interactive training on ‘How to be an Upstander’, in which participants gained a better understanding of the impact of racism, bias, and injustices, and learned practice techniques on addressing racism actively, at the moment: “If you see something, do something.”
The firm’s women’s initiative – Finnegan FORWARD: Focused on Raising Women's Advancement, Representation and Development – hosted a number of virtual initiatives that served to unite our women attorneys to continue in their efforts to establish new business initiatives, enhance their internal and external networks, and bolster one another’s success inside and outside the firm.
To this end, Finnegan FORWARD is planning its second Women’s Summit for May 2021, at which women attorneys at the firm will collaborate with one another, judges and in-house legal professionals to address best practices for women to forge new paths in achieving excellence in the IP legal profession.
Our Sponsorship Programme was also launched to retain and advance high-performing diverse associates on a clear path to partnership. Focuses of the programme include career planning, impactful networking opportunities, and career advocacy.
Eighty percent of our Management and Compensation Committees are comprised of diverse attorneys, 40% of our practice groups are led by diverse partners, 50% of our practice sections are led by diverse attorneys, and 60% of our Partnership Admission/Elevation Review Committee is comprised of women partners (having a direct impact on promotional decision-making).
Leadership and influence matter, as demonstrated by our 2020 equity partner promotions. Between 5% and 7% of our newest equity partners are diverse, one of them being our most recent Leadership Council on Legal Diversity Fellow.
In an effort to concretise the firm’s progress, the firm set an internal goal in which we will work to ensure that at least 50% of the positions on the firm’s Management, Compensation and Partnership Admission/Elevation Review Committees are held by diverse attorneys each year. Key decisions regarding performance management, compensation, and promotion can and should be influenced by groups that reflect the overall diversity of the firm and its clientele.
As a firm that has achieved Mansfield Rule Certification Plus for two years running, we are constantly assessing ways in which we can integrate a 55-plus-year history of team-oriented approaches in providing experiential opportunities to our personnel early and often and in providing superior client service.
Specifically, we are focused on diversifying our teams and providing opportunities to women and diverse attorneys at every level of their careers. This starts before a client even becomes a ‘firm’ client. Specifically, we closely monitor the firm’s client pitches to ensure that women and other diverse attorneys have the opportunity to interact directly with clients, resulting in access to the best billable and non-billable opportunities that are key to an attorney’s development and eventual promotion. In 2020, over 90% of the client pitch teams reported to the firm’s marketing department had at least one diverse attorney on them.
When the work comes in after the pitch, we are assured that the team will be diverse and that the espirit de corps surrounding our client service methods will result in diverse attorneys being able to access crucial opportunities resulting in retention and eventual promotion. We are working closely with the Diversity Lab to ascertain meaningful and accurate ways in which we can then follow up after the pitch to ensure that the matters are staffed in the same manner as the pitches (ie, clearly representing the robust diversity of our firm).
Recognising that the global pandemic would create unprecedented challenges for everyone, and in particular, working parents attempting to balance the rigorous demands of a private law firm practice with the care and education of school-aged children struggling to learn remotely (as well as those caring for elderly relatives), the firm implemented several unique initiatives in 2020 (to be carried over into the first half of 2021).
Our Management Committee authorised a certain number of ‘caregiver hours’ as creditable toward timekeepers’ billable targets. These hours are intended to provide assistance in terms of childcare, remote learning, eldercare, and covid-19 illness-related absences.
The firm also launched a myriad of other wellness options during 2020, including a virtual healthy cooking class, implementation of ‘Wellbeats’ – a virtual exercise and wellness programme, and weekly meditation sessions with Jon Kropp, a nationally recognised expert who focuses on wellness in the legal profession.
The past several months have been trying on everyone. With that said, Finnegan has seized these moments of crisis and worked diligently to not only maintain the status quo but become better. We are confident that we can and will carry this momentum into 2021 and beyond. As John F Kennedy said: “When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
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