Leaders from McGuireWoods, Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, Edward Jones and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Economic Justice Project convened on Aug. 13, 2020, for an online panel discussion on racial justice and how law firms and companies can work together to address the causes and impacts of social inequity during a time of social unrest. The webcast was the second discussion held as part of McGuireWoods’ African American Leaders in the Law series.
McGuireWoods Chairman Jonathan Harmon led the hourlong discussion with panelists Jarvis Hollingsworth, general counsel at Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors; Chris Lewis, general counsel at Edward Jones; and Dariely Rodriguez, director of the Lawyers’ Committee Economic Justice Project.
Nearly 250 virtual attendees tuned in to this timely discussion on accelerating change in a time that Rodriguez referred to as “a national reckoning that is forcing our country to have a very blunt conversation about systemic racism and discrimination.”
While giving credit to organizational and individual efforts to approach inequality head-on in recent months, Hollingsworth said, “The question is – is it sustainable? Is it meaningful in the long term? It’s going to take a concerted effort by all communities and the business community has a large role to play.”
Lewis said he is proud of the intentionality his colleagues and Edward Jones have shown in trying to address equity and questions of belonging. But, he added, there is a lot more industry can do and the hard work will take time.
Lewis said he constantly reminds himself that “racism never surrenders. It retreats and retrenches but it never completely goes away.”
As to how inside and outside counsel should work together to promote change, Rodriguez said, “It’s up to us to leverage the moment and push for change that is transformational.” Outside counsel should look internally at hiring practices, promotional practices and equitable pay, she said.
“For in-house counsel, ensure diversity in the sector but also call on outside counsel to ensure that the teams working on their matters are diverse and that the leaders on their matters are diverse,” Rodriguez added.
Lewis said law firms should invest in diverse associates for the long term. “Relationships and expertise take time to build,” he said. “We are committed not just to diversity in the team but in diversity in people who do our work. Invest over time in talented diverse associates.”
Hollingsworth encouraged firms to track productivity and development of associates of color to ensure retention and promotion policies actually work. “Being intentional about processing and monitoring progression is a big factor to focus on,” he said.
Harmon asked the panelists what advice they would give to leaders in the legal community when talking to employees and stakeholders about racial injustice and encouraging them to achieve positive change.
Lewis said, “Enter into the conversation with curiosity and openness. And listen to the lived experience of the people you are working with. It is not one size fits all in any profession. As leaders, the obligation to nurture talent starts with where people are coming from.”
Rodriguez said difficult conversations are essential to move forward. “But it doesn’t begin and end with conversations. Businesses and organizations and firms have to dedicate resources to those diversity and inclusion goals. They have to develop long-term plans, short-term plans. They need to ensure that the resources are supporting a person or team that actually has authority to effectuate real and lasting change.”
She added, “It is important to continue to balance immediate needs, but not lose sight of the longer goals, which, at the end of the day is to make all of our systems in this country equitable.”
See below for first webcast in McGuireWoods’ African American Leaders in the Law series.