All posts by Ash Agrawal

Coming Attractions: An Excellent Event, And An Exciting New Podcast

Please join us on February 2 for a celebration of the life and legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, Marty Ginsburg, modeled a true partnership in pursuit of gender equity. Their commitment to equal justice pervaded their personal and professional lives and will have a lasting impact on the legal profession and our society. To honor their legacy, the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas School of Law is proud to announce the Ginsburg Initiative, which will advance gender-neutral initiatives that support systemic change, such as best practices surrounding work assignments, performance expectations, parental leave, and transparency in career development.

On Tuesday, February 2, to mark the launch of the Ginsburg Initiative, the Center will host a virtual panel discussion on the life and legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which Lateral Link is proud to sponsor. The panel discussion will be moderated by Nina Totenberg — NPR’s celebrated legal affairs correspondent, as well as a longtime friend of Justice Ginsburg — and will feature four former RBG clerks:

The event is free and open to the public, and it has been approved for 1.25 hours of CLE credit (in Texas and reciprocal jurisdictions). Please register here for what will surely be a fascinating discussion about one of the most important and groundbreaking figures in American history.

Meanwhile, here at Lateral Link we have been working on the development of a new podcast focused on the Biglaw lateral market, entitled “Movers, Shakers, and Rainmakers.” Each week, my colleague Zach Sandberg and I will dissect some of the most significant recent lateral partner moves, discuss important trends in the legal market, and provide you with the news you need to know about the ever-changing ecosystem of the world’s largest law firms. If you have suggestions for topics or guests for the podcast, please reach out to me or to Zach.

We look forward to hearing from you, and we look forward to seeing you on February 2!

5 Concrete Steps Law Firms Can Take To Advance Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion

It’s all about intentionality, according to Yusuf Zakir, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Davis Wright Tremaine.

As we know all too well, 2020 was a challenging year — for us as individuals, for the legal profession, and for the nation. But the year was not without its positive developments. In my view, the most significant positive change within Biglaw last year was an increased commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

In fact, I would describe 2020 as the year that Biglaw got serious about diversity. At Lateral Link, in practically every meeting we took with firms to discuss their talent needs, diversity was a central focus. And it wasn’t just all talk and no action, with firms boasting about their commitment to diversity but not doing anything differently. I saw many situations where firms really did do things differently for diversity, such as looking harder, keeping searches open for longer, and working with diverse recruiters, who tend to have the strongest pipelines of diverse candidates.

We aren’t far into the new year, but so far, it seems that firms are continuing to focus on diversity in 2021. This past Tuesday, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP announced a great new policy:

FOSTERING DEI AT OUR LAW FIRM AND IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION IS EVERYONE’S BUSINESS.  THESE EFFORTS AND THEIR RESULTING BENEFITS MAKE US BETTER.  TO THAT END, WE ARE PROUD TO ANNOUNCE THE FIRM’S DEI BILLABLE HOUR CREDIT POLICY.  WITH THIS POLICY, THE FIRM WILL COUNT UP TO 50 HOURS OF ELIGIBLE DEI ACTIVITIES ANNUALLY TOWARDS THE BILLABLE HOUR REQUIREMENT FOR EACH FULL-TIME ATTORNEY.

THE PURPOSE OF THIS POLICY IS TWO-FOLD.  FIRST, WE SEEK TO RECOGNIZE AND REWARD ATTORNEYS WHO ARE COMMITTED TO DEI AT DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE AND IN THE BROADER LEGAL PROFESSION.  SECOND, WE SEEK TO ENCOURAGE BROADER PARTICIPATION IN DEI INITIATIVES ACROSS OUR ATTORNEY POPULATION.

Biglaw runs on billables, so giving billable-hour credit for diversity work is an important step. Because compensation at firms is generally tied to billable hours, Davis Wright and other firms with this policy are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to diversity.

Here’s another step firms can take to advance diversity: hire a chief diversity officer. Indeed, law firms around the country have been on a hiring spree when it comes to diversity professionals. The Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals (ALFDP) now boasts roughly 250 members, more than double its membership from just seven years ago.

Last October, Davis Wright Tremaine hired its first Chief Diversity and Inclusion OfficerYusuf Zakir. Before joining DWT, Zakir was the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Holland & Knight, and before that, he was the Manager of Global Diversity, Recruiting, & Engagement at Latham & Watkins. He previously worked as a litigation associate at Latham before making the jump over to the DEI space in 2015. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto and his law degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles, and he served as a law clerk to Judge Virginia A. Philips (C.D. Cal.).

The DEI Billable Hour Credit Policy is just one of a number of changes that Zakir and DWT have planned to promote diversity going forward. I recently spoke with Zakir to get his thoughts on how law firms should think about DEI.

Zakir agreed with my view that despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and the recession, which disproportionately affected underrepresented and marginalized communities, Biglaw did make progress last year regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Over the second half of 2020, especially after George Floyd’s murder, discussions around DEI accelerated,” he said. “Firms are now being much more intentional about diversity compared to 2008. Back then, during the last economic downturn, DEI was not as established in law firms as it is today.”

Intentionality is a key concept when it comes to promoting diversity. Firms can’t just go about their business and let the problem of diversity somehow solve itself; effort must be made.

“At the end of the day, DEI is about how intentional we are,” Zakir said. “Managing partners, department and practice group chairs, and law firm partners in general need to be intentional about developing talent. How do we make sure that a commitment to diversity is fully embedded throughout the organization?”

Without intentionality, you run into problems like “affinity bias,” our unconscious tendency to work with and professionally develop people who are like us. Because the upper echelons of Biglaw are not very diverse, affinity bias can lead to the replication of this lack of diversity — unless law firm leaders and partners, especially equity partners, make conscious, intentional efforts to develop a broad range of talent, not just people who are like themselves.

How can law firms address affinity bias and other forms of unconscious bias? Yes, training is important — and if your firm doesn’t already have training on this, it should. And training shouldn’t just be something that employees go through when they join the firm and never go through again; it should be revisited and reinforced. For example, a firm might want to have the lawyers who conduct on-campus interviews at law schools go through a refresher training before the start of OCI.

But training alone isn’t sufficient to solve the problem of bias.  Zakir emphasized that firm processes also need to be structured in ways that address the potential influence of bias, perhaps through the addition of “bias interrupters.”

Again, take on-campus interviewing at law schools. This is definitely an area where unconscious bias can have an effect; interviewers tend to bond with interviewees who are like them. Indeed, this is why law firms often send alumni of a particular school back to their alma maters for OCI, so they can bond with the applicants.

To address potential affinity bias, some firms have added a bias interrupter to the OCI process, Zakir explained. If an interviewer passes on a candidate from an underrepresented group, the interviewer might be asked to articulate in more detail why they made that decision, instead of just not putting the candidate on the callback list. The interviewer might still make the same decision in the end, but at least they will do so with intentionality, not unthinkingly.

Intentionality should extend to compensation as well, according to Zakir. In other words, firms shouldn’t just pay people what they want to pay them and let the chips fall where they may. Instead, firms need to track how compensation breaks down along such lines as gender and race/ethnicity — and if the results are not equitable, firms need to ask why.

Given all the changes law firms are making, large and small, to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, Zakir is optimistic about the future of DEI in Biglaw.

“There is rightfully a lack of patience on the part of many,” he said. “But change takes time.  The upcoming presidential inauguration reminds us of that.  Kamala Harris will be the first in so many categories as Vice President—first woman, first Black or South Asian woman, first person of color.  Harris was born less than a year before the Voting Rights Act was passed.  And next week, she will become the Vice President. This is incredible progress, but it can be traced back to the work of individuals over time who committed to these efforts and paved the way for others.  Progress takes time—but change does come.”

To recap, here are five steps law firms can take to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, if they have not taken them already:

  1. Give billable-hour credit for DEI work.
  2. Hire a chief diversity officer.
  3. Implement a robust training regimen that extends beyond onboarding.
  4. Consider adding bias interrupters to firm processes that could be affected by unconscious bias.
  5. Track compensation and structure compensation systems with diversity in mind.

Of course, there is no single action a law firm can take to ensure diversity. Advancing DEI requires intentionality, long-term commitment, and leadership from the top. It’s hard work.

The good news is that 2020 was a year when law firms started focusing on diversity. And even though many of us are happy to turn on the page on last year, let’s hope that Biglaw’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion remains with us, for many years to come.

(Disclosure: Lateral Link placed Yusuf Zakir into Davis Wright & Tremaine, as part of our robust and growing practice helping law firms and corporate legal departments to find chief diversity and inclusion officers. If you’d like our assistance in finding a chief diversity officer, please reach out to my colleagues Gloria Sandrino and Monique Burt Williams. Thanks.)

How Do I Research For A Lateral Interview?

Here are some helpful, publicly available resources.

Everyone tells you it’s imperative to research for your upcoming interview. But they don’t often advise on how or where to research.

Here are some helpful resources that are publicly available:

  • The firm bios of the interviewers, as well as their LinkedIn profiles (if available).
  • The practice group’s website, as well as the latest press releases and news articles about the group.
  • Social media: follow the firm on LinkedIn and on Twitter.
  • A Google news search: Set up an alert (https://www.google.com/alerts)!
  • Legal 500 (https://www.legal500.com/): Learn about a practice and notable practitioners, and see how the firm’s group ranks compared to those of peer firms.
  • Chambers and Partners (https://chambers.com/): Similar to Legal 500, see how the group ranks in the local market and who are the top practitioners.
  • Chambers Associate (https://www.chambers-associate.com/): While Chambers and Partners is geared more towards potential clients, Chambers Associate addresses associate experiences at various law firms. A caveat when it comes to this guide and Vault (below): complaining sells more than happy associates, so take what you read with a grain of salt.
  • Vault (https://www.vault.com/vault-guides/law): While you have to pay for the full firm profiles, some information is available at no charge.
  • NALP (https://www.nalpdirectory.com/): This directory is my go-to resource for information on compensation, partnership tracks, and diversity initiatives. Information is provided by each law firm.

One major advantage to working with an experienced legal recruiter is that we will help you prepare and share our research. When I work with you as my candidate, I will:

  • help you articulate your personal story, your reasons for looking to move, and why you would be an asset to the new employer;
  • provide you with detailed interview tips, sample questions to prepare, and an “interview prep worksheet,” so you can focus your prep time;
  • give you intel on the interviewers, the firm, and the group that is not publicly available; and
  • even conduct a mock interview, if you feel it would be useful.

Please also see my article on 12 Lateral Interview Tips from a Legal Recruiter, and please reach out to me if you are looking to explore new opportunities or would like to learn more about the legal market and the lateral hiring process.

How To Plan An Informational Interview

Here are 12 tips if you’re asking for an informational interview and would like to be respectful of your interviewee’s time.

Recently, I shared some job search tips for lawyers seeking their first legal jobs or those looking to re-enter the legal workforce. One tool I mentioned that can be helpful when looking to break into a market is the informational interview.

Here are 12 tips if you’re asking for an informational interview and would like to be respectful of your interviewee’s time. (Note: I refer to the person you’re hoping to speak with as the “interviewee” rather than the “interviewer” because, in an informational interview, you are the person asking questions to obtain information from the interviewee. Remember that this is not a job interview, in which you are on the receiving end of the questions.)

1. Send an initial e-mail or LinkedIn message that:

a. makes it clear that you are asking for an informational interview and on what topic(s),
b. offers enough background on yourself as necessary, but as succinctly as possible,
c. shows how you are connected or how you came across the interviewee’s profile,
d. states the time commitment you are looking for (no more than 20-30 minutes!),
e. offers several time slots when you are available but invites the interviewee to offer alternative times, and
f. asks permission to send your resume and a list of questions you’d like to ask. Follow up with these items only after the person has agreed to speak with you, but at least a day in advance of the call.

2. Be sure your messages are free of any typos and include a proper signature block and link to your LinkedIn profile. Do not, however, shower the person with so much information or a full job application bundle such that it seems like “homework” just to navigate your request.

3. If you do not hear back from the prospective interviewee, it’s okay to follow up, but wait 7-10 days. No one likes a follow-up 12 hours later when you are asking for a favor.

4. You may offer to speak by phone or by Zoom, but make it the interviewee’s choice; do not push a Zoom meeting on someone. Offer to send a calendar invite. If you do offer a Zoom meeting, be prepared to send a meeting link.

5. Be prepared to take the lead in the conversation. It’s fine to remind the interviewee of your basic experience, but do not waste time repeating your whole resume.

6. Keep the informational interview to the time frame you requested.

7. Follow the interviewee’s cues as to how formal or informal your conversation will be, but err on the side of treating this like an actual interview. It’s great practice for a true interview!

8. Take notes if you can, but above all, be sure to LISTEN to the answers to your questions. There’s nothing more annoying than plodding through a list of pre-ordained questions when some have already been answered earlier in the conversation.

9. At the end of your interview, ask if there is anyone else the interviewee recommends you speak with, including anyone they might introduce you to. Ask for their suggestions on next steps.

10. As I discussed recently in The Importance of Authentic Networking, any networking or relationship building must be a two-way street. Always ask your interviewee if there is anything you can assist them with. It may be something as small as sharing a link to an article they might enjoy or sharing news of your shared alma mater. Just be sure to ask how you can reciprocate. And ask permission to stay in touch and ask what method they prefer.

11. Be sure to follow-up with an immediate thank you message the day of the interview. Send any articles or reciprocity you’ve promised. Connect with the individual on LinkedIn if you haven’t already.

12. If your interviewee agrees that you should stay in touch, stay in touch! If you’re conducting multiple informational interviews, you may consider keeping a spreadsheet with names of interviewees, notes on your conversations, and reminders to follow up every few months.

If used correctly, the informational interview can be a powerful tool for you in your job search. Good luck!

Jobs Of The Week: In-House And Boutique Opportunities

A totally remote in-house job — the hire can be based anywhere in the United States.

As this tumultuous year draws to a close, bonuses get paid out, and COVID-19 vaccines give hope that the end of the pandemic might soon be in sight, now is a good time to explore new career opportunities. Here are two for your consideration.

First up: an entirely remote in-house opportunity, which we are handling exclusively at Lateral Link. An exciting and dynamic technology company that went public earlier this year is looking for a securities lawyer with at least five years of law firm or in-house experience to handle preparation of the company’s SEC filings. Because the company is in the process of going completely remote, you can sit anywhere in the United States, giving this job incredible flexibility. You must be admitted to a state bar, but which state bar doesn’t matter.

The hours are expected to be extremely reasonable. The company offers excellent benefits — health insurance (75 percent of costs covered), dental insurance, a 401(k) with a generous match, 24/7 mental health counseling, career coaching, and more — and boasts a wonderful, friendly culture. If you’re a securities or capital markets lawyer who has been looking for an in-house opportunity, look no further.

Second, for litigation associates with three to four years of Biglaw experience, a plaintiff-side securities litigation boutique in New York is looking to hire. The work is interesting, dynamic, and fast-paced; you won’t be stuck on these giant Biglaw cases that drag on for five or 10 years. Expect to have stand-up opportunities, such as arguing motions, very soon after arriving. If you’re tired of going to court but never getting to speak, then you might appreciate this post.

This boutique is open to considering associates from a fairly wide range of backgrounds. We’re also working with a number of other litigation boutiques that seek associates with strong academic records from top schools, federal clerkship experience, and a year or two of experience at a top Biglaw firm. Compared to their Biglaw counterparts, boutiques offer smaller (and often more collegial) environments, more responsibility at an earlier stage of your career, and enhanced partnership prospects.

If you might be interested in any of these opportunities, please reach out to me by email: . Thanks, and happy holidays!