Driving Diversity in Law and Leadership: Lanique Roberts’ Takeaways

December 17, 2020 | By Lanique A. Roberts

Earlier this month, Lanique Roberts had the opportunity to participate as a panelist at the Driving Diversity in Law & Leadership Virtual Summit Philadelphia.  Lanique and her co-panelists specifically discussed how and why legal employers should create a more diverse legal profession by developing and promoting women of color to leadership positions at their respective organizations.  The other panels at the summit discussed other topics involving women of color in the legal profession and the systematic barriers that often work against them on their path to leadership.  Here are Lanique’s key takeaways from the Summit that can benefit all organizations and attorneys in the legal profession on their path to equity.

Culture is Key

People go and stay where they feel welcomed, so the first step to attracting and retaining attorneys of color is to create a culture in your legal organization where there is a sense of belonging.  There are many of systematic barriers that contribute to the revolving employment door of diverse attorneys in the legal profession.  Such barriers include, but are not limited to, excluding diverse attorneys from networking opportunities and denying diverse attorneys desirable assignments, which both cause attorneys of color to feel isolated. 

To create a sense of belonging, leaders, supervisors, and partners must include diverse attorneys in the decision-making process and long term strategic planning for both big client matters and intra-organizational administrative developments.  Legal employers must also increase their constituents’ awareness of the issues that diverse attorneys face and support attorneys of color in their efforts to build a network outside of their organization through affinity groups. Finally, just as associates are evaluated by partners, legal employers should encourage a system where associates can anonymously provide feedback to supervisors or partners so that the employer can get a sense of the delegation of assignments, the inclusion of associates in networking opportunities, and the leaders’ efforts to promote an inclusive culture and sense of belonging.

Upgrade from Allies to Accomplices

We’ve all heard the stories of white actors refusing certain roles so that the roles can be given to a person of color instead.  Similarly, we’ve seen some male actors advocate for a pay cut to their salary so that that their female colleagues, who were offered smaller salaries, can receive equal pay for the project.  This is the spirit of accompliceship: being willing to put one’s own privilege at risk in order to disrupt racism and discrimination in the workplace and beyond.

Many marginalized communities thrive on “lifting as we climb” and “paying it forward,” concepts that suggest that, as we as individuals reach various levels of success, we should also assist our colleagues in reaching the same level of success. However, in the context of the legal profession, that “accomplice mentality” is often not extended by white colleagues to their colleagues of color.  In order to advance our profession to equity and inclusion, privileged attorneys, such as white men or white women, must be willing to put their privilege at risk by lifting their colleagues of color up with them to the important conversations and circles of leadership.

Sponsorship, Sponsorship, Sponsorship

One important topic that came up multiple times during the summit was the importance of sponsorship in addition to mentorship.  While many are familiar with commonly formed mentor/mentee relationships, sponsorship is often overlooked. Mentors are people in a position of experience who advise their mentees and help them navigate the culture of the legal profession.  Sponsors, on the other hand, are senior-level employees who advocate for their protégés and give them active networking connections while making connections for them.  Sponsors are personally vested in the professional development of their protégé and therefore increase their protégé’s visibility in their various networks

Sponsors will speak on behalf of their protégé’s when they are not sitting at a table where decisions are made.  Because of this, it is important that lawyers of color have sponsors in leadership positions who sit at tables that are traditionally filled with a majority of white men.  Partners and leaders tend to gravitate towards junior-level attorneys with whom they self-identify, share common interests, and have worked closely.  Given the lack of diversity at these tables, it is important for attorneys of color to have sponsors who will sing their praises so that the attorney can become “visible” to the leaders who would have otherwise overlooked them.  Everyone should challenge himself or herself to sponsor an attorney of color and, likewise, attorneys of color should seek out sponsorship from those who are invested in their professional development.

In a Profession Where Attorneys are Constantly Advocating for Our Clients, Attorneys Cannot Forget to Advocate for Themselves

There was an ongoing theme that I saw in many of the conversations that took place at the Summit, and that was advocacy.  It is easy for one’s talents, skill, and efforts to be overlooked when no one is talking about that person’s abilities to the right people.  In order to push women of color and other diverse attorneys into the leadership positions that they deserve, their talents must be a “hot topic.”  This takes a group effort.  Sponsors and accomplices should not only have a 30-second elevator speech prepared for themselves, but for their diverse protégés and colleagues as well.   Additionally, it is very important that attorneys of color always promote and advocate for themselves, whether it be for seeking a sponsor or seeking a promotion. In a profession where attorneys are always advocating for their clients, they should never forget that they, themselves, are their best advocate.

While this is not an exhaustive list of action items that can help solve the issue of inequity in the legal profession, these anecdotes provided the summit attendees with a kick start in working towards a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable legal profession.


About the Authors

Lanique Roberts

Lanique A. Roberts


Lanique is a member of the firm’s Litigation and Family Law Departments. As part of her practice, Lanique conducts legal research and drafts legal memoranda analyzing issues for the firm’s commercial litigation...

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