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Driving Change in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By Ari Kaplan with Jennifer Martinez.


Ari Kaplan speaks with Jennifer Martinez, the chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, and a partner at Hanson Bridgett LLP.


Ari Kaplan

Tell us about your background and your role at Hanson Bridgett.


Jennifer Martinez

I was a summer associate at Hanson Bridgett and after five years with other firms, I returned in 2013, making partner in 2019. I spent time over the past year reflecting on my career. The firm also created a task force in response to the social upheaval that was taking place as a means of being action-oriented and re-examining, internally and externally, the way that the firm could marshal its resources to advance issues of racial and social justice. One of the recommendations by the task force was the creation of a chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer.


I really love this work and am now transitioning my litigation practice to other partners and associates in the labor and employment group.


Ari Kaplan

What is your mission in this role?


Jennifer Martinez

Our firm is really invested in moving the needle on these issues. When I was a young law student, we had a number of the same conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion, including the need to increase retention and address attrition, but here we are 13 years later talking about the exact same things. We are committed to breaking out of that every-10-year-cycle of paying attention to these issues and then seeing enthusiasm fade, only to end up back where we started. My mission is to break that cycle of just talking. Our firm sees that process starting with reviewing our policies and practices within the firm to be a more conscious corporate citizen. We are an all-California firm and I grew up here. I think it's important that this firm look like and reflect the people and values of the state where we practice.


Ari Kaplan

What policies and initiatives have helped the firm support its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives?


Jennifer Martinez

We are directing our pro bono partnerships towards racial justice and equity efforts. We are also strengthening our relationship with law school affinity groups and working on several pipeline projects. In fact, we are trying to partner with our clients, who often want to do this work as well but don't necessarily have the infrastructure to do so. I am now involved in every single lateral interview that we have and we hold our section leaders accountable for the candidate pools that they create for open positions. The firm’s recruiting committee, of which I am chair, responsible for law student recruiting and hiring targets additional law schools, participates in various diversity career fairs, and engages more diverse student populations to increase the diversity of our candidate pools. We have several policy initiatives that look at our leadership and credit sharing policies to guard against unconscious bias creep. We are a very progressive firm, but we know we still have work to do, such as collaborating with our marketing department to help diverse attorneys develop individualized business development plans and promote an anti-racist boot camp, as well as unconscious bias and ally-ship training.


Ari Kaplan

Did the firm implement any specific protocols in the past year to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion while working remotely?


Jennifer Martinez

We were very well positioned when COVID hit because before the pandemic we had started a dynamic workforce initiative, now called the Agile Workforce Initiative, that recognized the reality that in this modern era, one probably doesn’t need to be in the office five days a week from nine to five. We had already transitioned to allowing our professionals to work more flexibly and that policy seems to have really benefitted many of our female attorneys.

Ari Kaplan

How do you expect the Agile Workforce Initiative to impact hiring both lateral and new hires, as well as retention?


Jennifer Martinez

We have hired a number of new attorneys in 2021 and nearly everyone that we've interviewed has identified our flexibility as one of the main reasons they are attracted to our firm. We have heard that same feedback from law students as well. It is not simply a result of the pandemic. We recognize the modern reality that almost everything we do requires sitting in front of a computer. Even the courts have gotten used to a more remote environment. That said, I do think that it is important for us to be intentional about cultivating and maintaining the special culture we have created at our firm, much of which has to be strengthened in person. My worry for some younger attorneys is that they will miss opportunities to learn in the office so we need to find ways to replicate those spontaneous in-person training opportunities. I would like to see the legal profession make a more conscious effort to promote diverse attorneys into leadership positions at firms, non-profits, bar associations, and law schools. It is important to create models that show how many paths there are to success as a diverse attorney to reach the top of that mountain, whatever that mountain may be for each individual. In fact, change is most likely to come and last if we have diverse leaders at the top. It is much easier to create lasting change with a top-down effort, rather than simply having diverse ranks at the bottom of the pyramid. I would love to see the legal profession become more innovative with workplace policies and be more creative with remote working arrangements or varying hours and days of work. The pandemic has provided a window to make some fundamental change and I hope our profession has the ‘ganas’ to do it.

 

About the Author

Ari Kaplan (http://www.AriKaplanAdvisors.com) regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change, and introduce new technology at http://www.ReinventingProfessionals.com and his series at Legal Business World


Listen to his conversation with Jennifer Martinez here:


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