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May 28, 2016
Covington associate Bianca Stewart recently discussed her experience as a minority lawyer at a panel event co-hosted by Urban Lawyers. The event focused on diversity in the legal industry and how the sector can further promote and retain lawyers from under-represented groups.
At the event, Bianca concentrated on the theme of professional growth. She discussed how important it is to develop personal bonds with senior lawyers for professional development.
“In my experience, the culture of the firm is critical for the retention of any lawyer. Law firm cultures typically encourage the development of partner and associate relationships. These types of relationships tend to lead to greater professional opportunities simply because of the connection. Therefore, law firms tend to offer after-work, social events to provide time to foster and support these relationships outside of the office. However, for lawyers from under-represented groups, some of these activities may be a challenge. For example, they may be activities that are only open lawyers who have attended schools that have given them access to certain sports (such as cricket or rugby) or they perhaps can be difficult to attend from a location perspective if the associate lives further away from the office due to financial circumstances.”
Bianca’s presentation also emphasized the importance of diversity organizations within law firms.
Bianca stated: “I think it is crucial for law firms to have groups that represent under-represented employees, such as affinity groups, because these type of organizations naturally give you a network of professional ties. These types of groups allow you to feel as though you are part of the fabric of the firm and offer opportunities to develop relationships with senior lawyers and, in some cases, partners. I appreciate Covington’s African American and Black Diversity Affinity Group for that reason.”
Bianca concluded: “The event was very thought-provoking. One of the areas we touched on was the approach by British universities and law firms to contextual recruitment. “While U.S. firms are able to exercise affirmative action, contextual recruitment still has some way to go to be accepted as a recruitment principle across the city. The idea behind contextual recruitment is that the software uses an algorithm to score candidates based on performance but also takes into account certain social mobility metrics. Therefore, a candidate who grew up in a deprived area, attended a failing school, was the first in his/her family to go to university, and came out with As and Bs, would be considered to be at least on par with someone who grew up in an affluent area, attended an excellent school, and earned straight As.
“As a whole, I really enjoyed being on the panel. It is important not to shy away from the subject of diversity and to take all opportunities to discuss the slightly more uncomfortable details.”