From parent lawyers to female lawyers to first-generation professionals, Latham & Watkins wants its lawyers and professional staff to feel supported and included, regardless of background or personal circumstances. The firm has created eight global affinity groups for lawyers, which, essentially, do what they say on the tin: allow colleagues who share an affinity in terms of a particular life experience (or are in support of those that do) to come together, have a forum to air their voices, and share strategies for professional success.
The Lex 100 spoke with Jonathan Ritson-Candler, associate and co-head of Latham’s London LGBTQ Lawyers Group, and Chidi Onyeche, associate and co-head of the firm’s Black Lawyers Group in London, to learn more.
Open to all trainees and lawyers, the affinity groups are overseen by the firm’s Diversity Leadership Committee (DLC), comprised of partners, counsel, and associates from around the globe. The DLC spearheads Latham’s global diversity and inclusion strategy and initiatives, working to strengthen and promote the firm as a workplace where the best and brightest lawyers from all groups, including those traditionally underrepresented in the legal industry, excel and find the opportunities and support to fulfil their potential to become firm and industry leaders. Each affinity group has both global and local leaders, primarily associates. This leadership structure ensures that members can feel comfortable speaking up about any issues they may be facing. ‘The idea is that this isn’t just another iteration of partners overseeing what you do’, explains Jonathan.
Latham encourages broad participation in its affinity groups, all of which welcome allies. ‘I joined the Black Lawyers Group pretty much straight after joining the firm, and I’ve been very involved from the time I was a trainee’, says Chidi. In fact, potential trainees are even exposed to the affinity groups during the recruitment process. ‘I completed a vacation scheme in 2014, and Latham’s dedication to diversity, and in particular to black lawyers, was something that stuck out to me; it was one of the major factors why I chose to pursue a training contract here’.
Lateral-hire Jonathan joined the LGBTQ Lawyers Group in order to get to know his new firm: ‘I thought it would be a nice way to get more exposure to the firm, meet more people and get embedded a bit quicker. And that’s definitely been the case’.
Being an affinity group member has myriad benefits, one of which is exposure to Latham colleagues and firm leaders globally. ‘You automatically start building a network, so that even in a huge firm like Latham, you have an immediate route to getting to know people, meaning you don’t feel cut off from it all’, says Jonathan. ‘Incidentally, you’ll end up working with colleagues across the global network in any event, so it’s another great way to put a face to a name’. Chidi agrees. Every two years, the Black Lawyers Group invites its members to a global firm-sponsored retreat. There are engaging and inspiring discussions from firm leaders, affinity group members and allies. For example, this past September, the Black Lawyers Group retreat was held in Chicago, where attendees were able to visit the Obama Foundation to understand some of the great work that is happening there. Not only is it a perfect chance to catch up with colleagues and friends from around the globe, and meet new ones, group members also provide strategic input on how to best achieve the group’s overall aims of recruitment, retention and promotion of black talent across the firm’s network. Through this retreat, Chidi and other members of the Black Lawyers Group have been able to get to know firm leaders, forming invaluable connections. ‘There’s a certain sense of power (far above my paygrade!) which comes from speaking to them and getting to know them and them getting to know me’.
The local leaders of the LGBTQ Lawyers Group for each office get together on a global call once a quarter. ‘If someone’s in Hong Kong and another in Los Angeles, there’s never going to be a good time to have a call, but people are pretty good at turning up. It’s really gratifying to see the global commitment to diversity play out’, enthuses Jonathan. There are also quarterly catch-up calls for the various global sub-committees within the group, networking events where members are encouraged to bring their significant others and an all-affinity group lunch once a year.
There are plenty of opportunities to get together in the London office too. The Black Lawyers Group recently hosted a series of talks to coincide with Black History Month. ‘We had one talk about social media, which looked at members’ LinkedIn profiles and online presence. The idea was to ensure that clients who were considering coming to Latham would see that our lawyers’ online profiles were well thought-out’, explains Chidi. The next talk will be a financial planning session, something which has historically been a challenge for the black community. ‘The hope is to help members understand how best to utilise the wealth that we have, so that it can be preserved and also grow. We need to make sure that we start building generational wealth’.
Furthering its commitment to supporting the diverse needs of lawyers and staff, Latham recently rolled out significant benefits enhancements in the UK that make it easier to access more inclusive medical care and plan a family. These include financial support for transgender transitions and fertility treatment such as IVF, elective egg/sperm freezing, private maternity delivery services, and for surrogacy and adoption.
There’s no doubt that the success of Latham’s affinity groups can largely be attributed to the sheer amount of effort expended by their dedicated leaders and members. Organising events and activities, many of which involve international offices, requires unwavering commitment, which is no mean feat for City lawyers who are also juggling heavy client workloads. But there is always someone on hand to take over if an urgent matter crops up.
Impressively, the firm has also attributed bonus-eligible credits to diversity initiatives. ‘Not only is my team really supportive, but the firm more broadly is supportive because there are file codes to which you can record your time which are counted as part of your bonus calculation, as long as certain conditions are met’, elaborates Jonathan.
Black Lawyers Group
The Black Lawyers Group’s global retreats have definitely been highlights for Chidi. ‘The first global retreat was in Washington, D.C.; I was a trainee at the time and was on secondment in Singapore. The firm paid for my flights from Singapore to London and then onto Washington, D.C. It was fantastic. Sometimes you can get really siloed within your department and within the firm, and then you realise that there’s actually something much bigger at work. In D.C. and, more recently at our retreat in Chicago, it was great to see so many amazing black lawyers and allies who support the whole mission in one place talking about how we can do better, be better and encourage diversity and inclusion in general.’
LGBTQ Lawyers Group
For Jonathan, arranging a LGBTQ Lawyers Group event to coincide with London Pride really stands out. ‘We rented an event space on Piccadilly in London, which had a balcony and a view of the parade. It was a client event, and both clients and Latham employees could bring their children and partners. This was the second year we had hosted this event, and there were about 200 clients and 100 Latham employees – it was the most well-attended client event the firm in London had ever hosted. It’s definitely taken on a life of its own, with people asking us if we will be hosting it next year too. We hope to. In fact, we’re even talking about how to make it even better!’