Arabella Babb Mansfield was the first female lawyer in the United States, admitted to the Iowa bar in 1869, at a time when women could not vote and had virtually no legal rights. For years, I have kept a glass paperweight with an image of Mansfield on my desk – a constant reminder of the progress we have made in advancing diversity in the legal profession and under the law, the fragility of those gains, and the enormous work that remains ahead. Given my fascination with Mansfield, it is fitting that I now speak of her almost daily as the Partner Champion for Gibbons PC’s participation in the Mansfield Certification program that bears her name. Launched in 2017 by Diversity Lab, “an incubator for innovative ideas and solutions that boost diversity and inclusion in law,” the Mansfield Certification was designed to accelerate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in law firms nationwide.
More than 150 years after Mansfield was admitted to practice law, the advancement of underrepresented attorneys in the legal profession has been undeniably slow, as evidenced by numerous industry studies. The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) has surveyed the 200 largest law firms in the United States for more than a decade, to track the retention and advancement of women and diverse attorneys in law firm partnership and leadership. Despite decades of a diverse pipeline of law school graduates, NAWL’s 2020 Survey reported that women represent only 21% of law firm equity partners, people of color of all genders only 9%, LGBTQ+ individuals about 2%, and persons with disabilities less than 1%. Equity partnership is a critical benchmark, because achieving this status is typically a prerequisite for law firm leadership roles.
In response to this lagging representation of diverse attorneys at the most senior levels of law firm leadership, the Mansfield Certification has focused more than 180 participating law firms nationwide on their respective internal processes for developing and selecting law firm leaders. Now in its 6.0 version, the Mansfield Certification seeks to interrupt implicit biases that can impede the advancement of underrepresented attorneys and boost their representation at the highest levels of law firms.
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To be eligible for certification in July 2023, firms must consider historically underrepresented lawyers – women lawyers, racial and ethnic minority lawyers, LGBTQ+ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities – for at least 30% of available roles when hiring lateral attorneys and appointing, electing or promoting attorneys into leadership positions and equity partnership. The certification process also concentrates on measurable activities that impact an attorney’s path to leadership, such as the consideration of lawyers to take part in formal client pitches. In addition, participating firms are required to share best practices and lessons learned, define and publish job descriptions for all leadership roles, and meet data-collection and reporting milestones.
The Mansfield Certification aligns well with Gibbons’s decades-long commitment to increasing the representation of diverse attorneys. In 1997, Christine Amalfe, Gibbons Executive Committee member and Employment & Labor Law Group chair, founded the firm’s Women’s Initiative, making Gibbons one of the first law firms nationally to have such a program. Women now make up 40% of Gibbons’s Executive Committee, and in 2022 to date, historically underrepresented lawyers account for 50% of the firm’s promotions to equity partner and 66% of its associate-to-partner promotions. But we know we can do even better – as a firm and a profession. The Mansfield Certification will be an integral component of Gibbons’s strategic plan for the next generation of the firm’s leadership, fostering the continuous improvement and transparency of our policies and practices to further diversify our leadership.
In support of our Mansfield Certification, I am proud to chair a 12-member working group that is broadly reflective of Gibbons’s diverse attorney talent and leadership. Demonstrating our strong commitment from the top to the success of the process, Gibbons’s Mansfield working group includes our Managing Director Peter Torcicollo; Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer June Inderwies; Chief Diversity Officer Robert Johnson; and Deputy Executive Director and interim Chief Human Resources Officer Hayley Conklin – as well as directors representing our recruitment, professional development, and promotion functions and a cross-section of the firm’s practice groups.
Working in sub-groups focused on recruitment, advancement, leadership and business development, the Gibbons working group is benchmarking the firm’s current policies and practices in each area measured by the Mansfield 6.0 Certification. In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to collaborating with Diversity Lab to develop and execute action plans to enhance our data collection, transparency of processes and communication about the firm’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategies.
Our Mansfield working group, and the firm more broadly, remain dedicated to nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce – in furtherance of the legacy of Arabella Babb Mansfield and countless other diverse attorneys on whose shoulders we stand. As Torcicollo recently noted: “Without a doubt, cultivating a diverse workforce is integral to our success. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to become Mansfield certified and look forward to collaborating with this important community of our peers.”
Kristin D. Sostowski, a director in Gibbons’ Employment & Labor Law Group and past president of the National Association of Women Lawyers, serves as the firm’s “Mansfield Partner Champion,” described by Diversity Lab as an influential senior partner “who has in-depth knowledge of the firm’s talent practices, is involved in decision-making related to the Mansfield Rule categories, and can educate the partnership about the Mansfield Rule to ensure strong leadership engagement.”l