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05 February 2020

Five US law firms commit to spending $5m on collaborative diversity 'lab'

Nixon Peabody completes line up of law firm participants in Move the Needle Fund

While 50% of law school graduates are women, they make up 21% of most law firm equity partnerships Shutterstock

A US project to spend more than $5m exploring how to improve diversity and inclusivity in the legal profession over a five-year period has completed its line-up of five US law firm investors.

Am Law 100 firm Nixon Peabody announced today that it is the fifth and final firm to have been selected to join the Move the Needle Fund (MTN) in a process that saw it commit to contributing $1.25m, according to Law.com.

The other law firm members of the project, which is run by Diversity Lab, are: Eversheds Sutherland, Goodwin, Stoel Rives and Orrick.

The initiative’s stated aim is ‘to test innovative initiatives to create a more diverse and inclusive legal profession’ by creating a an ‘experimental “laboratory” in which bold new approaches will be incubated over five years in the law firms to serve as a model for learning and transformative change in the legal profession and beyond’.

Also participating in the project are a group of more than 25 general counsel,  including Rachel Gonzalez, of Starbucks Coffee Company, Amy Weaver, of Salesforce, and Uber’s Tony West.

The law firm participants were selected via a blind application process that saw them submit measurable goals to improve their diversity metrics over the five-year period.

Nixon Peabody has pledged to boost the proportion of women equity partners to 30% from 17% today, the proportion of racially/ethnically diverse attorneys to 12% from 7% and to double the proportion of LGBTQ+ attorneys to 6%.

James Chosy, general counsel, US, of Bancorp and an MTN founder GC said: “Their goal represents the type of bold thinking and action that MTN was built on. Our hope is that other law firms follow the lead that these five firms have set for the profession.”

Andrew Glincher, Nixon Peabody’s CEO and managing partner, added: “We see MTN as a unique opportunity to collaborate with a core group of innovative leaders in a new approach to diversity and inclusion, one that is grounded in research, data, and behavioural science.”  

MTN project notes that while law school graduating classes are approximately 50% women, 33% racial and ethnic minorities and 6% LGBTQ+, the current make up of equity partners in most large law firms is 21%, 9% and 2% respectively.

MTN estimates that if the five member firms achieve their goals, they will be in the top 10% of all Am Law 200 firms for both associate and partner diversity at the end of the project.

The project mirrors a similar, target-led initiative by Black General Counsel 2025 to double the number of black general counsel at Fortune 1000 companies in five years.

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Further reading on diversity and inclusion:

Law firms excel in diversity rankings across the US, the UK and Australia

California firm noted for diversity record hires first female managing partner

UK lawyers celebrate 100th anniversary of law granting women access to profession

Latest gender pay gap figures reveal extent of diversity challenge facing top UK law firms

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