Leslie Richards-Yellen, left, and Kathy Bowman-Williams, right. (Courtesy photos)
As law firms continue to struggle in diversifying their partnership and leadership ranks, Reed Smith, Hogan Lovells and Day Pitney announced this week the hire of inclusion officers, while Weil, Gotshal & Manges is a year into a diversity education program.
Hogan Lovells hired Leslie Richards-Yellen, a former business and commercial transactions partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Hinshaw & Culbertson in Chicago, as the firm’s director of inclusion for the Americans in New York. Day Pitney picked up Kathy Bowman-Williams, a former vice president and regional diversity officer at Morgan Stanley, as diversity and inclusion director in Parsippany, New Jersey.
Leaders at both big firms said they have long been serious about diversity, but are hoping their new hires will take each of them to the next level.
Richards-Yellen, who in August began a one-year term as president of the National Association of Women Lawyers, said she will try to look at Hogan Lovells’ systems from an outside perspective.
“How do people get elevated to partner? How do people get reviewed? Who gets what work?” she said are questions the firm will be analyzing. “You need to look at it with a forensic kind of eye to figure out how did this associate get from point a to partner and see how you can replicate it for other people.”
Bowman-Williams said she will be focused on making sure that people—particularly law school students—know that Day Pitney is a “place that is inviting for women and people of color.”
While many Am Law 200 firms have diversity or inclusion mangers, the industry has still struggled to promote women and minorities into top positions. Equity partnerships are made up of 17.4 percent women and 5.6 percent racial or ethnic minorities, according to the National Association for Law Placement. As previously noted by The American Lawyer, a greater portion of the nation’s largest companies have female executives than law firm equity partners.
“As an African American woman who’s been out of law school for a long time, you could look at the representation of diverse attorneys and be unhappy,” said Richards-Yellen, adding that she is optimistic that progress is underway. “Every little thing that changes is really exciting.”
Weil has launched a diversity initiative called Upstanders@Weil that is meant to educate people at the firm about topics like implicit bias and how to support lawyers and staff with diverse backgrounds.
The program, which is inspired by a curriculum originally designed to be taught in schools called Facing History and Ourselves, uses videos, presentations and skits to teach people at the 1,063-lawyer firm how to be advocates for people with a different background than their own.
According to The American Lawyer’s 2016 Diversity Scorecard, at Weil, 22.2 percent of the lawyers and 8.6 percent of the partners are minorities. Minority lawyers make up 18.4 percent of the 2,516-lawyer Hogan Lovells and 8.4 percent of the global legal giant’s partners. Day Pitney is made up of 11.9 percent minority lawyers, and 3.6 percent of the firm’s partners are minorities.
Day Pitney said in the last five years, since the director of diversity position was filled by Bowman-Williams’ predecessor Asker Saeed—now a vice president of consulting solutions at legal staffing firm Robert Half Legal—the 261-lawyer firm has promoted 31 new partners, seven of which are diverse, and 13 of whom are women. (On Wednesday, legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa published the results of a survey showing that male partners at big firms make 44 percent more than their female counterparts.)
Reed Smith, whose former diversity head Deborah Broyles died at 53 in September, announced Thursday that its Los Angeles managing partner John Iino would replace her as global chair of diversity and inclusion at the firm. Iino also serves as global co-chair of Reed Smith’s Japan business team.