Diverse talent provides an economic advantage. So how can law firms retain top talent?

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Despite studies showing diversity and inclusion provide an economic advantage, the legal profession remains one of the least diverse in the country. Corporate clients have been the drivers of demanding diversity in law firms, but when the economic downturn hit, programs aimed at inclusion were cut. Bloomberg BNA Big Law Business' Diversity & Inclusion summit in San Francisco included a panel session on retaining and promoting top talent that was moderated by Joseph West, President & CEO of Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA). Panelists were:

  • Katherine Adkins, Group Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Toyota Financial Services
  • Jeremy Roth, Co-President and Managing Director of Littler Mendelson LLP
  • Brian Wong, Managing Partner of the Corporate & Securities Group and Executive Partner for Diversity and Inclusion of Pillsbury Winthrop LLP (a friend and law school classmate of mine)

In addition to talking about their individual legal career development and experiences, panelists discussed the why inclusion matters to companies and to the law firms serving them, and how legal employers can improve their retention of top diverse talent--especially since "diversity doesn't happen by accident." Topics included: 

  • Secondments, training, and mentoring 
  • Onramp programs aimed at bringing lawyers on hiatus (for example, due to family leave) back into legal practice
  • Bringing senior male law firm partners on-board as sponsors for women associates on partnership track
  • Implicit and overt bias in law firms that drives talent to transition in-house
  • The impact of their negative experience in law firms on in-house counsel's selection of outside counsel
  • General counsel looking at diversity as part of their outside counsel selection--forcing change within law firms