What is Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s approach to diversity?
Akin Gump understands that the needs of a wide range of clients in the global marketplace are best served by a diverse and inclusive legal workforce. When Robert S. Strauss, one of the Firm’s founders, began practicing law, he encountered hiring restrictions at many firms which excluded persons of his religious background from opportunities within the legal profession. His experience fueled a determination that is pervasive among the Firm’s partnership to recognize merit regardless of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, and to provide unsurpassed legal services to all clients. At Akin Gump, we believe that the contributions of attorneys with diverse backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences enhance the services we provide to our clients and our community. This commitment is reinforced in the day-to-day operations of the Firm in connection with our recruitment, mentorship and promotion of attorneys, our pro bono engagements and our business development efforts, and has been championed by attorneys at all levels and in all offices of the Firm, including, most notably, by the Firm’s leadership. Progress in matters involving diversity and inclusiveness requires more than just talk; a firm must also “walk the walk” by setting ambitious goals, creating a Firmwide commitment to those goals, instilling individuals and committees with responsibility for achieving those goals, initiating and coordinating concrete actions in furtherance of those goals and supporting and rewarding those who participate in the efforts.
Akin Gump has a two-tiered Diversity Committee structure, with a Firmwide Diversity Committee and a local Diversity Committee within each Akin Gump office. These committees are open to attorneys of all backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences, though many of its members are female attorneys, attorneys of color and LGBT-identified attorneys. The Diversity Committee structure provides a forum for the exchange of ideas among our attorneys and also a means to implement the strategic elements of the Firm’s Mandate for Diversity. To this end, the Diversity Committees provide opportunities for attorneys and personnel to communicate questions, concerns and ideas to Akin Gump’s management, and to make recommendations to enhance our recruitment, retention and promotion efforts and other diversity- and inclusiveness-related programs and activities at the Firm. To achieve the Firm’s goals, committee members also participate in and initiate outreach to clients, lateral candidates, law schools and law school students, the not-for-profit community and each other.
What sets your recruiting, career development, and work-life programs apart?
At Akin Gump, we hire the best and brightest, seeking out talented lawyers with varied backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences. Participation and outreach are key, and the firm’s efforts go beyond recruitment of attorneys for our firm. We are working to expand and foster the pipeline of diverse attorneys that have access to the legal profession. The firm is a leading supporter of pipeline programs, such as Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, the Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program and PALS, as well as sponsorship and participation in events led by minority law student groups, networking programs, recruiting events and other forums with a focus on diverse lawyers and law students. In addition to these external programs, the firm has developed its own pipeline programs including the Pro Bono Scholars Program and Robert Strauss / Akin Gump Diversity Scholarship which provides a $25,000 scholarship to two outstanding second year law students to offset expenses for their third year of law school. In addition to the financial award, the scholarships also offer mentoring from firm attorneys and a paid second year summer associate position in the firm’s New York and Washington, D.C. offices.
Akin Gump also recognizes the significance of comprehensive professional development programming in retaining a diverse workforce and has a program set around four “Core Competencies.” Each Core Competency—”ownership,” “professional excellence,” “service & teamwork,” and “client focus”—lays out in detail, by experience level, the Firm’s expectations for the professional development of its attorneys. These same expectations become the criteria against which associates and counsel are evaluated. An attorney’s self- and third party evaluations serve as the basis for the development and implementation of individualized professional development plans, which also inform the assignment process within each practice area. By creating and communicating a more transparent, objective and measurable set of criteria by which associates and counsel are evaluated, encouraging supervising attorneys to provide meaningful feedback with each evaluation and providing opportunities for associates and counsel to participate in their own evaluation and the formulation and implementation with supervising attorneys of individualized professional development plans, the Firm hopes to encourage all attorneys in their formal and informal training and advancement.
The Firm recognizes that a key component in retaining attorneys, is to help them effectively manage and balance their work life with their personal life. Akin Gump’s parental leave policy provides for up to 18 weeks of paid parental and paid adoption leave. In addition, the Firm’s Reduced Workload Policy, which was adopted over 10 years ago and allows attorneys to work significantly reduced schedules, reflects the Firm’s commitment to providing a workplace that enables attorneys to fulfill parenting and family care responsibilities or to pursue activities designed to enhance their professional development or stature in the legal community while continuing to work as productive and valued Akin Gump attorneys. The Firm’s Reduced Workload Policy specifically provides that attorneys working a reduced workload remain eligible for partnership and counsel promotion. Akin Gump has also instituted an emergency back-up child care and elder care benefit which is available in all of our offices. These vital resources provide flexibility and options for attorneys whose regular child-care option is temporarily unavailable, or who have responsibilities caring for aging or ill parents.
How long has Akin Gump been a corporate partner of CUP’s and why does your firm value this relationship?
Although Akin Gump’s first formal corporate support of CUP was as a Silver-level sponsor of CUP’s 2013 Annual Spring Gala, lawyers at the Firm have been involved with CUP for most of its existence. For example, Akin Gump partners have been proud to serve on the host committees for every one of CUP’s Annual Lawyers’ Forum, including the inaugural event in 2010, and to attend the outstanding White House conferences co-sponsored by CUP and Business Forward in 2012 and 2013. This past year alone, Akin Gump had one partner named a CUP Catalyst-Law and another become a member of CUP’s Board of Directors. In addition, through our corporate sponsorship, a corporate counsel at the Firm was given the opportunity to attend a CUP leadership development program and numerous other attorneys attended CUP events throughout the year.
Both as an organization and as individual professionals, Akin Gump lawyers value the relationship with CUP because it supports and reinforces our commitment to mentorship and diversity and also allows Akin Gump attorneys at all levels to attend informative and unique networking events that enrich their professional and personal development. The enthusiasm Akin Gump lawyers, especially the younger ones, have exhibited for CUP events over the years demonstrates that our support is well place.
How do you think CUP will have the greatest impact?
We believe CUP provides a tremendous platform for professionals of all backgrounds and ages to come together and learn from one another about what it takes to advance and succeed in today’s business world. In particular, we believe the networking, professional development and mentoring opportunities provided by CUP for diverse young professionals will have the most enduring impact on those fortunate enough to be touched by CUP and where we, as a firm, are most proud of our involvement. Akin Gump is honored to partner with CUP in empowering and mobilizing tomorrow’s business leaders.