Law firms are struggling mightily with the challenges of retaining and developing their talent—and especially their diverse talent. One major thing law firms can do to meet this challenge is harness and deploy the individual influence and clout of their senior leaders and rainmakers. This group, still mainly white men (along with a slowly but encouragingly increasing cadre of women), received the great gift of sponsorship from prior generations. And yet as we attempt to engage one-on-one with extremely talented junior professionals, we encounter wide gulfs of life experience associated with differences in race, gender, ethnicity, generation and associated views about professional achievement and satisfaction.

Overcoming these barriers starts with a better appreciation of all of the things a senior, successful lawyer actually can do. The intentions are good, but they often atrophy, through a combination of ignorance (“what should I do?”), fear (“what if I say the wrong thing?”), and competition for our attention. It is a less risky path to keep doing what we already do well: “Why take a chance on something where success isn’t assured?” As I have often heard from other senior colleagues: “I want to help, but I am just not good at this.”

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