Hamilton Herald Masthead Hamilton Herald

Editorial


Front Page - Friday, October 23, 2020

Baker Donelson targets multiple barriers with Diversity & Inclusion Compact


Compact outlines commitment to become diversity and inclusion industry leader by end of 2025



Jim Levine, a shareholder in Baker Donelson’s Chattanooga office and a member of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Compact advisory board, says Baker Donelson’s endeavor to increase its number of diverse attorneys and remove barriers to advancement is not just morally right, it will be good for business. - Photograph provided

The first page of a new Baker Donelson document contains a statement made by Craig Glidden, general counsel of General Motors, in June of this year as the death of George Floyd brought the topics of police reform and racial inequality in the U.S. to a boil.

“We will not let this pass. This has gone on too long. Too many mistakes have been made. Too many lives have been lost. This must stop,” Glidden said. “Lawyers have a unique role in this. We are the guardians of justice in our society. We need to carry the banner for equality, freedom and justice for our country.”

The quote establishes the context for Baker Donelson’s newly implemented Diversity & Inclusion Compact, a multiyear plan to increase the number of diverse attorneys within its ranks, as well as provide additional support and remove barriers to advancement.

Baker Donelson’s D&I Compact outlines its commitment to be an industry-leading law firm in diversity and inclusion by Dec. 31, 2025, and includes specific benchmarks for the firm to achieve in order to meet that goal.

The groundwork for the compact began was laid in 2019 after Timothy Lupinacci assumed the role of chairman and CEO of Baker Donelson and identified diversity and inclusion as a top strategic priority.

“Baker Donelson has a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. We’re proud of the progress we’ve made since launching our Diversity Initiative in 2002, but we recognized there was much more work to be done,” Lupinacci says. “The Diversity & Inclusion Compact will allow us to continue to make progress and establish our firm as a leader in the industry.”

The progress to which Lupinacci referred includes efforts at Baker Donelson to create an inclusive environment for all employees, welcoming people of all races, genders, ages, languages, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, disabilities, sexual orientations and religious beliefs to assist clients in achieving their legal goals.

For example, as a Mansfield Rule Certified Plus 2020 firm, Baker Donelson considers women, attorneys of color, LGBTQ+ attorneys and attorneys with disabilities – at least 30% of the candidate pool, according to the firm – for recruitment, governance roles, equity partner promotions and inclusion in pitch presentations to clients.

Baker Donelson is also a member of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance, a coalition of more than 200 law firms focused on utilizing private bar resources to help legal services organizations dismantle barriers to opportunity in communities of color.

The creation of Baker Donelson’s D&I Compact began with a survey of its diverse attorneys. The “cultural audit,” as the firm calls it in an upcoming news release, sought their views on the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts, obstacles they have experienced and suggestions for improvement.

The audit identified many positive attributes but also areas for improvement, including retention, access and connection to significant firm clients, opportunities for leadership advancement and mentoring.

Marcus Maples, chair of the D&I Compact Advisory Board, has for the past year led a team of attorneys and professionals across Baker Donelson in utilizing feedback from the audit to create the firm’s D&I Compact.

“The audit was crucial in helping us identify the obstacles that might limit an attorney’s pathway to success,’’ Maples says. “We believe the compact offers a concrete, actionable plan to help attorneys overcome those obstacles.’’

“Our hope is that our efforts will serve as an example in the legal community as a firm that understood it had work to do and committed to doing it. We also hope to inspire others in the legal profession and beyond to take their own steps forward.”

To achieve industry-leading benchmarks of at least 20% diverse attorneys, 10% diverse shareholders, 8% diverse equity shareholders and 10% diverse management team, the D&I Compact outlines four priorities. These include:

1. Tracking diverse lawyers’ recruitment and progress

Through the use of measurement and tracking tools, every firm leader – including those on the board of directors, practice group leaders, department chairs and office managing shareholders – will be held accountable, and their compensation will be dependent on their achievements.

2. Sponsorship

As persons of influence, sponsors will promote their protege’s interactions with signature firm clients and other firm leaders, and help raise their visibility in the community and within the firm.

Sponsors will be firm owners with 1,000 or more shares or a firm leader who works on his or her protege’s behalf and advocates for his or her pathway to success.

3. Increased focus on business generation

Baker Donelson will also take what it calls “aggressive measures” to ensure diverse attorneys are given every opportunity to participate in its business development programs and that attorney sponsors are doing everything they can to help diverse attorneys become successful business developers and leaders in business generation.

4. Attorney recruitment

Finally, Baker Donelson has devised a recruitment plan encompassing measures that seek to ensure a diverse attorney or a member of the Diversity Committee interviews each diverse attorney candidate.

“The cornerstone of any effective Diversity & Inclusion program should be the creation of a sense of home for diverse attorneys,” Maples notes. “Home is a place where we feel comfortable, where we can express ourselves, where we can disagree but still come together for the common good, and where people respect others and their opinions.

“That’s what the compact is about. It’s about removing barriers that have been in place for generations that have kept diverse attorneys from succeeding at the same rate as their non-diverse colleagues, and ensuring that each person has the same access to opportunities and the same chance for advancement.”

Mark Baugh, chair of Baker Donelson’s Diversity Committee, adds, “This is Baker Donelson’s pledge to hold our firm and its leaders accountable as we work together to build a law firm that will lead the legal industry in our numbers of diverse leaders, lawyers, shareholders and equity shareholders.

We look forward to the day when we as a firm can celebrate our success in not only reaching but exceeding the goals we have set for ourselves.”

Additional source: Baker Donelson