When Jorge Leon and his colleagues at Michael Best & Friedrich look back at their firm’s work this year to engender a more diverse and inclusive legal profession, they can take special pride in a couple of big accomplishments.
First, the firm was able to award two law-school scholarships to students who, once they begin practicing, will help make the law a more diverse field.
“This further cements our role in helping to ensure there is a diverse pool of attorneys and that we are getting more diversity into the pipeline,” said Leon, a partner at the firm and co-leader of Michael Best’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee Group.
Then there was the firm’s adoption of a policy designed to protect the rights of transgender employees. Leon said it’s not just an anti-discrimination measure. It also makes it clear that employees have the right to be addressed by whatever pronoun they want, to have official records changed to reflect however they want to be addressed and to dress in a way that conforms to their preferred identity, among other things.
“This shows that in areas where some places might be lacking progressive policies, we are going to continue progressing and moving forward and creating open environments for everyone,” Leon said.
But rather than being out of the ordinary, these accomplishments are building on the work Michael Best has been doing for years to help bring more diversity to the legal profession. The firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee is composed of 17 lawyers who meet every month to discuss ways to recruit and retain employees and evaluate new policies, all in the interest of promoting diversity.
The committee’s work has helped support the employee-resources group Lawyers and Engineers Advancing Diversity, which organizes events to give members opportunities for business development, relationship building and learning. Another beneficiary of the committee’s efforts is the Women’s Development Group, which provides various types of support to women throughout their careers.
The firm’s EDGE Program separately works with organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers to recruit diverse groups of candidates for internships in the field of patent engineering. Leon said Michael Best does all this not simply because it’s the right thing to do.
It also helps enormously in the firm’s work to recruit and retain talented employees.
“Possible recruits, they see the good press we are getting for these policies, and they associate it with the fact that we are doing something right,” Leon said. “And they think, ‘It must be a good place to work.’”
To read more, visit the Wisconsin Law Journal’s website here.