In Episode 10 of The Law in Black and White, Jon and Bryan welcome Liz Price of Alston & Bird and Siobhan Handley of Orrick to discuss their roles as Chief Talent Officers in Big Law and innovation in law firm operations, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this episode, Liz and Siobhan share their insights about law firms’ challenges in acquiring and retaining diversity and how their role as Chief Talent Officers is essential to developing creative ways to address those challenges. Here are a few highlights:
The Role the Chief Talent Officer
Law firms are increasingly recognizing the importance of recruiting talent, but the profession has not adapted well to passing on institutional knowledge and memory. Liz emphasized that since law firms are “selling brainpower,” they need to pivot from a tradition of rotating recruitment responsibilities among attorneys every few years to creating a more integrated, consistent approach required by a full-time recruitment position.
As former practicing partners, both Liz and Siobhan feel that their long-term experience in the substantive practice of law and understanding of their firms’ cultures is key to making valuable employment decisions as Chief Talent Officers.
Innovation to Address Challenges
The biggest challenge is not recruitment, but the increasing and retention of diversity among partners. They agree that current processes cannot be reformed, but firms must apply the same rigor and innovation used in legal practice to address retention issues.
“A big part of innovation is not being afraid to fail,” Liz emphasizes. Firms like Alston 7 Bird and Orrick are embracing change that goes beyond technology. Orrick has implemented a gender-neutral caregiver leave policy for lawyers and staff; recognized the benefits of remote work post-COVID-19; and created an “unplug policy” which focuses on wellness and sustainability.
Alston & Bird is more flexible in making alternative, non-partnership career paths available for attorneys, offers more hands-on training and feedback, and has created “coaching circles” to address issues concerning partnership advancement of women and attorneys of color.
Addressing Wellness Amidst COVID-19 and Social Justice Uprisings
As Siobhan puts it, stress is an existential threat to the legal profession. Firms can support lawyers by facilitating conversation about how individuals are being impacted by the pandemic and social issues concerning racism. Firms are even allowing bereavement time for lawyers’ mental health.
Siobhan adds that, “Diversity shouldn’t just be on diverse lawyers – there should be real, concrete, and active allyship to drive change.” Firms must recognize that stress, particularly that created in communities of color, is an impediment to success.
Listen to the full episode to hear how Alston & Bird and Orrick are changing the game through recruiting, talent management and supporting their teams.
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