As law firms wrestle with the vexing problem of how to increase the number of diverse and women lawyers in their ranks, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has created a new role that it hopes will help solve that exact problem.

Joi Bourgeois, an attorney and veteran legal career expert, has joined Orrick as its new global head of diversity and inclusion, the firm confirmed this week.

Bourgeois, a former vice president and director of business development at Greiner Consulting Group in New York, joins Orrick’s office in the same city with the goal of helping the firm attract, retain and advance its diverse and female talent.

“We think that [Bourgeois] is going to be a really helpful resource and can really do an awful lot to move the needle for us,” said Orrick global chair and CEO Mitchell Zuklie.

The idea for the creation of the position was something that had been percolating within the firm for some time, Zuklie said. But within the past year, he noted that Orrick began taking active steps to create the position that Bourgeois now holds based on feedback they received from its lawyers, firm leaders and even clients.

“What we heard from our diverse lawyers was that they needed more help finding sponsors and connecting with business development opportunities [and] certainly our clients have made it clear to us and everyone else in the industry that they want us to hire more diverse lawyers,” said Zuklie, referring to the series of diversity mandates handed to Big Law by general counsel earlier this year.

Zuklie added that Orrick’s leaders also asked for help in enhancing the diversity of their practice teams and in retaining diverse lawyers. The firm scored well in The American Lawyer’s most recent Diversity Scorecard, with minority lawyers accounting for 24.6 percent of its U.S. attorneys and 14.3 percent of its partnership ranks.

“We concluded that we needed someone who was a dedicated senior adviser who could do that,” Zuklie said. “[And] when we found [Bourgeois] we were incredibly excited because we think she’s a really perfect fit in terms of being able to do all three of those things.”

In her new role, Bourgeois will provide one-on-one coaching and advice to Orrick’s female and diverse attorneys, as well as counsel the firm’s senior management and leadership around broader issues of inclusion and diversity. Bourgeois will also serve as a liaison between the firm and clients who are looking to staff their matters with diverse talent and will help connect lawyers with opportunities for clients that are managing diverse teams.

Joi Bourgeois

“We’re at a time in the market when clients are out there saying we want to see more diverse talent, hire them law firms,” said Bourgeois, who began her legal career as a corporate associate in 1991 at Rogers & Wells, a New York-based firm later absorbed by Clifford Chance.

Bourgeois said that this shift in the marketplace creates a unique opportunity to work with clients and leaders at Orrick to advance diverse talent. But another key factor that plays into that advancement is providing diverse and female lawyers with the right sponsorship and mentorship to advance their careers, which have traditionally been an issue in Big Law, Bourgeois said.

“If you look at the numbers it’s simply harder for women and diverse lawyers to find the right sponsors,” she said. Therefore, in her new role, Bourgeois will be helping connect women and diverse lawyers to sponsors both inside and outside Orrick, and especially with clients that can help them succeed in the legal profession.

That will be the measure of success for her in her new position, she said.

“This is a business of relationships,” Bourgeois said. “And I think a clear measurable would be if we could see more women and diverse lawyers playing critical roles on client teams, more women and diverse lawyers really measurably generating new business and consequentially influencing client relationships.”

Meghan Tribe can be contacted at mtribe@alm.com.