Isabel Araujo, Partner, Willkie Farr & Gallagher

Isabel Araujo explains the added value diversity can bring to a law firm and gives a guideline on how to build more inclusive legal teams

First, we should make mindful decisions about who we hire and resist the urge to favor people who look like us, went to the same schools as us or grew up in the same towns as us. Then, once you have a diverse legal team, be mindful that everyone’s experiences are different, and just because something has worked well for you, does not mean it will work well for me. Unsolicited commentary about the way one person handled a situation could be received differently than may have been intended so we should be aware of the impact of our words. Allow lawyers to develop their own styles and manage their projects as they see fit as long as the common goal to fulfill a client’s needs is being met.

Part of the benefit of working at a law firm is that a client has access to lawyers who have expertise in different subject matter, and transactions are not handled by only one lawyer or a group of lawyers with the same knowledge. The value a diverse legal team provides for a client is perspective and broad experience, which translates into a client being able to hear different sides to an argument or consider a strategy that had not been presented before. Having different voices in the room, in just the same way that having lawyers from across different practice areas in the same room, ensures that more ideas are being heard, with the ultimate goal to settle on the best one of the bunch.

A few examples include: (1) I think a best practice is that when a matter is being staffed, a senior lawyer should call each person on the team and tell them why he or she would make a good addition to the team. This adds instant loyalty and a sense of purpose for the lawyer. Compare that to an impersonal email alerting a group of lawyers about the new project. (2) At the start of the project, along with reminding everyone about the client’s needs, the most senior person should articulate his or her expectation that everyone on the team will actively contribute to the matter. Then follow-up. If you notice that the same people are the only ones speaking, specifically ask the others to weigh in and frame it so they know you are interested in their ideas. (3) Utilizing 360º feedback is also a simple but effective technique that allows people to feel heard (and of course, implementing changes based on that to the extent appropriate).