Building Global Diversity in Law

Meredith Moore oversees diversity and social responsibilities initiatives globally for Weil, Gotshal & Manges. The New York City-based firm has implemented diversity education, affinity groups and other community services initiatives that have paved the way for other firms. During the course of her career, Moore has developed expertise in global diversity, mentoring and workplace flexibility. She discusses how Weil, Gotshal & Manges attracts and maintains a diverse workforce.

How did you get into the diversity field?
Most of my work prior to Weil focused on providing companies and professional services with research and tools to retain and advance diverse talent. I began my career at Catalyst, a research and advisory organization working with businesses and professions to build inclusive work environments. While there, I managed “Women in the Law,” a study that traced the career experiences of women who graduated from the top five law schools over the course of 20 years. By 2001, the opportunity was ripe for focusing attention around diversity and motivating the legal profession as a whole to address it in a systematic and thoughtful way. I joined the New York City Bar Association and launched its office for diversity, and then joined Weil in 2007.

How does Weil attract a diverse workforce?
There are a number of things Weil does:

U.S. and London diversity education: Weil recently embarked on an education program requiring all U.S. and London attorneys and staff to participate in annual diversity workshops developing concrete skills for achieving an inclusive workplace. In addition, the firm offers multiple voluntary educational programs on topics, such as standing room-only workshops across multiple offices on working with different generations to help people better understand generational diversity between millennials, Gen Xers, baby boomers and traditionalists.

Continental Europe Diversity Initiative: Weil conducted a culture and diversity assessment in our European offices, including a survey of all attorneys and staff, interviews and focus groups. Based on the assessment’s finding, we developed a customized training program that was mandatory for all attorneys and staff across our European offices.

Biennial diversity week: A weeklong series of around 50 events globally aimed at raising awareness. Each year Weil has a different theme, but the overarching approach is “think global, act local” to empower each office to address the topics most relevant to them.

Diversity fellowships: Weil offers three diversity fellowships to law school students. The fellowships are available to students who are enrolled in an ABA-accredited law school and intend to practice law in a major city of the United States.

Affinity groups: Throughout the year, Weil’s affinity group members receive targeted professional development opportunities: The Black Attorney Affinity Group participated in career planning workshops to discuss ways to leverage strengths and identify growth opportunities. Women@Weil members have participated in interactive workshops led by women partners and senior staff focusing on “career critical” skills such as leadership and negotiation. Asian Attorneys@Weil and WEGLAA have offered customized networking and business development workshops for their members.

How does the Women@Weil initiative enable women at your firm to succeed?
The group is focused on mentoring and networking, recruiting and retention, pro bono initiatives, and business development and outreach. Since many of the challenges facing women in the workplace transcend borders, Women@Weil has a global outlook. The firm’s European offices hold quarterly videoconference workshops on career-critical topics such as networking and leadership featuring different perspectives of women partner panelists. Women@Weil New York launched a Mentoring Circle initiative where small groups of women associates are mentored by a male and female partner. Recently, a two-part Partner & Counsel Business Development Workshop was delivered to women partners and counsel from around the globe culminating with a client-networking event.

In your opinion, is diversity as important within the legal profession as it is in other fields?
The legal profession is influenced by the diverse population of law students graduating today and over the past 20 years. The year 2014 will mark 30 years since [Weil’s] first formal diversity committee and policy with the first diversity education program launched the following year.

Historically, the legal industry has been slow to catch up with the other global organizations in terms of diversity; however, more attention is being focused on this issue and we are starting to see that reflected in global law firms.

How important is mentorship at your firm?
At Weil, we realize the importance of effective formal and informal mentoring. Weil has a mentoring program that is committed to creating opportunities for associates to develop relationships with and gain guidance from partners, counsel and senior associates. The firm hosts mentoring-related events throughout the year including an annual mentoring week. All associates are included in the formal mentoring program. Upon arrival at the firm, each new associate is paired with a new associate partner adviser and a mid- to senior-level associate who will serve as his or her associate mentor.

Jennifer Kahn is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive Magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.