Blog Post

Seramount’s 2024 Best Law Firms for Women & Diversity: Trail-Blazing New Paths in Inclusion

By Karen Kaplowitz
May 29, 2024

The data is in: Seramount’s 2024 Best Law Firms for Women & Diversity are not only staying the course on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) but also have embedded DEI more deeply in their firm cultures. For 17 years, the Seramount Best Law Firms for Women Initiative has provided law firms with a data-based platform to gather and analyze their progress and in 2023 expanded the survey beyond gender to other underrepresented groups and renamed it the Best Law Firms for Women & Diversity.  For the 2024 list, law firms submitted extensive data as of the end of 2023 in response to a detailed survey on DEI policies, practices, and results. Each participating law firm then received a scorecard that ranks their progress against other applicant firms in four areas: gender representation, racial and ethnic representation, benefits and career flexibility, and best practices.

With the heightened legal scrutiny of diversity after the Supreme Court’s 2023 ruling on affirmative action in higher education, there was a frequent question: Would law firms maintain their DEI commitments? The Seramount survey results demonstrate that the winning law firms have not only stayed the course with continued DEI commitments but also are using lessons learned from their DEI efforts to innovate to support all lawyers and staff.

The survey data showed that DEI is securely ingrained in firm cultures. For example, formal mentorship and sponsorship programs have become standard tools for achieving DEI goals:

  • One hundred percent of the winning firms have formal mentoring programs, up from 96 percent in 2023.
  • Within those programs, 52 percent of mentees were women, up from 49 percent in 2023, and 34 percent of mentees were people of color, up from 30 percent in 2023. 
  • Similarly, 89 percent of the winning firms offer formal sponsorship programs, up from 82 percent in 2023 , with 58 percent women proteges, up from 53 percent in 2023 and 51 percent people of color proteges, up from 39 percent in 2023.  
  • The data also shows that 89 percent of winning firms offer cultural competence training for mentors, mentees, sponsors, and proteges in these programs. 

The winning firms’ commitments are long-term. DEI has achieved the status of a core value and has become an essential component of professional development strategies in winning law firms of all sizes. Significantly, 26 firms on the 2024 list have been on the list for 10 years or more and have received Hall of Fame status. 

When Seramount invited winning firms to identify the DEI programs to which they attribute their sustained success, their responses confirmed what the data shows: law firms are using DEI tools that were developed to support women and other underrepresented groups to enrich professional development across the board.

For example, in the winning firms’ leadership development programs, 45 percent of participants are women and 26 percent are people of color. “Seramount is proud to help the law firms that participated in the 2024 Best Law Survey ensure the continuity of their DEI initiatives and to leverage the value of their DEI experience to enhance professional development in their firms,” said Subha Barry, president of Seramount.

Seramount is proud to highlight some of the best practices adopted by law firms, which have helped earn them a place among this year’s Best Law Firms for Women & Diversity.

Orrick is the number one-ranked 2024 law firm.

A Hall of Fame firm on the list for 16 years and ranked in the Top 5 in 2023, Orrick continues to innovate to support DEI. For example, Orrick has increased the diversity of its summer and first-year associate classes in part by its focus on recruiting top students from non-traditional schools. To address the hybrid workplace, Orrick has reimagined onboarding new lawyers, learning from sectors such as financial services and medicine —and created the Orrick Residency in which residents have a reduced billable hours expectation and focus on a full legal and business training curriculum. As Chief Talent Officer Siobhan Handley explains: “The Residency is a key part of our answer to ‘How do you mentor in a hybrid workplace?’ and ‘How do we make sure we’re integrating junior talent that can add value for our clients?’ The feedback has been extraordinary—from our residents, our partners, and even the clients with whom our residents have worked. Now in its second year, it is going to be a key part of our talent strategy as we focus on building teams with diverse perspectives and experiences.”

Covington, on the list for the eighth year, continues to prioritize fostering an inclusive workplace that ensures access to opportunities, mitigates bias, and empowers colleagues of all backgrounds to thrive.

Covington supplements the firm’s mentorship program with a Mentor Circle initiative for women. Women associates are paired with senior mentors to discuss topics such as career paths, managing life changes, and others to enable women associates to navigate their own professional journeys. “By focusing early on mentorship and career preparation, we better support our women in their professional journeys, and ultimately advance the firm’s overall DEI goals. Representation of women in leadership roles continues to grow, but there is still more to be done,” notes Marlene Aquino, Covington’s Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer. 

Crowell & Moring, a Hall of Fame firm on the list for the thirteenth year and ranked in the Top 5 firms in 2024, takes a talent development approach to advancing DEI.

Crowell was one of the first law firms to create a formal sponsorship program. The firm’s annual Sponsorship Program has helped maintain a steady pipeline of promoting women in leadership roles. Each cohort is inclusive of women, lawyers of color, and/or LGBTQ+ lawyers, among other intersectional demographics and identities. “As a product of hard work and sponsorship, it has been an honor to watch the evolution of this important program, as well as the permeation of a sponsorship culture throughout the rest of our firm,” states Crowell’s Executive Committee Chairperson Chahira Solh. “I am proud to share that our 2024 Sponsorship Program protégé cohort is 94% diverse overall, with women and racially or ethnically diverse lawyers each representing 61%, and LGBTQ+ lawyers representing 6%.”

Faegre Drinker, on the list for 14 years and in the Hall of Fame, is the product of the 2020 merger of two firms, Drinker Biddle & Reath and Faegre Baker Daniels, which both put a high premium on their core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Following the merger, Faegre Drinker innovated to create “client DEI dashboards” that aggregate and regularly update data from each client team, including titles, hours, and fees. As Chief Diversity Officer Maria Lewis explains: “Faegre Drinker’s DEI values go well beyond ‘what’ we are doing—of equal importance is ‘how’ we engage and put our values into action. We root all our initiatives in accountability, intentionality, and innovation. We developed the client DEI dashboard, which has been piloted with 50 clients. This acts as an objective ‘road map’ for developing client teams that reflect our DEI values and it visualizes where we have been, where we are and where we are going. Our client DEI dashboards produce clear and consistent reports, standardize the firm’s DEI data acumen, and help us collaborate with our clients on our shared DEI values.” 

Husch Blackwell, on the list for the  fourth year, attributes its success to the firm’s strategic support of DEI firm-wide. In 2021, the firm hired its first Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, who leads a dedicated team of professionals, including two data analysts, to oversee and implement DEI initiatives.

“Our DE&I and Data Science teams leverage data and analytics to measure the impact of our DE&I efforts, identify gaps and opportunities, and inform our actions,” said Amanda Garcia-Williams, Husch Blackwell’s Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer. “For example, our benefits team partnered with our DE&I team on proposals for enhanced caregiver and health benefits. Proposals included survey and benchmarking data as well as DE&I impact analysis and alignment to strategic goals. Our leaders appreciated this clear strategic alignment and approved benefits enhancements that provide meaningful support of all our people, their families, and their careers.”

Katten, a Hall of Fame firm that has been on the list for 15 years, has boosted its DEI efforts by hosting a biennial Diversity Summit.

Last summer, nearly 150 firm attorneys convened at the summit to learn best practices for shifting away from imposter syndrome and toward adopting unconditional self-worth, handling encounters of microaggression and implicit bias, and generally navigating a law firm career.

“This type of dynamic programming is so valuable because it strengthens our Katten community by offering a space where historically underrepresented attorneys can comfortably share their experiences and how they have overcome challenges. Such insightful conversations can positively impact the professional growth of our attorneys and contribute to a more inclusive work environment while underscoring the firm’s unwavering commitment to advancing DEI in the legal industry,” noted Kenya S. Woodruff, National Chair of Katten’s Women’s Leadership Forum.

In addition to the firm’s support of the five national diverse bar associations, Kirkland has also increased its investments in and strengthened client relationships through partnerships with several DEI-committed organizations. Kirkland is the title sponsor for Corporate Counsel Women of Color, the top law firm sponsor for SEO, a leading sponsor of Ascend Leadership, and an early supporter of The Unlocked Foundation. These partnerships allow access to opportunities and critical relationship-building for Kirkland attorneys while greatly advancing Kirkland’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Joi Bourgeois, Firm-Wide Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, stated that “Kirkland strives to support inclusive opportunities for our lawyers by creating a law firm culture where any ambitious lawyer can leverage strategic partnerships, have a genuine seat at the ‘leadership table’ by developing client relationships and personal brands, and grow a thriving practice at one of the most successful law firms in the world.”

Littler, a Hall of Fame firm on the list for 15 years, not only has maintained its own commitments but as a leading labor and employment law firm supports its clients’ efforts.

“Since our founding, Littler has been dedicated to fostering and championing a diverse, inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive professionally and personally. In the wake of the growing controversy around inclusion, equity, and diversity initiatives (IE&D) and recent Supreme Court rulings, we not only remain committed to our own efforts, but to helping our clients achieve their IE&D goals. Our recent IE&D C-Suite Survey found that most leaders have doubled down on their IE&D commitments despite the rising scrutiny of such programs. Through our deep experience, we are able to help clients implement meaningful, effective, and legally compliant IE&D initiatives,” stated Erin Webber, Littler’s Managing Director and President.

Morrison Foerster has been on the Best Law list for 15 years and is in the Hall of Fame.

In 2023 and 2024, the firm ranked in the Top 5 firms on the Best Law list. In 2023 the firm launched an industry-leading Parents + Caregivers Network. The new network, open to all firm employees, aims to further the firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion by expanding the firm’s already generous resources for parents and caregivers and actively supporting the engagement, retention, development, and advancement of attorneys and business professionals who identify as parents and caregivers across the firm. As Natalie Kernisant, the firm’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer explains: “Without appropriate support, balancing work with caregiving responsibilities—whether as a parent, a person with aging parents, or a sick family member—can have a huge impact on our mental and physical well-being and how we show up at work. MoFo recognizes that each one of us is a whole person and that as a firm committed to supporting the growth and development of its people, we must aim to provide that support both in and outside of work. Our Parents and Caregivers Network is designed to do just that, bringing together similarly situated colleagues to build community, share best practices and resources, and raise awareness around the unique issues affecting caregivers at the firm. Here at MoFo, we show up for each other.”

Neal Gerber Eisenberg is a mid-size Chicago firm, new to the Hall of Fame in its tenth year on the list.

Post-pandemic, the firm has designed an innovative, highly flexible, 4+4 hybrid work policy with one day in the work week as an all-in day for lawyers and staff in each practice group and department and four additional days per month for attorneys and professional staff to choose to come into the office. As Robert Gerber, the firm’s managing partner notes: “Our hybrid work policy embodies the firm’s commitment to both professional excellence and personal flexibility. We believe the structure of our policy truly integrates in-person collaboration with increased individual flexibility. When we rolled out the policy, we invited everyone to embrace the spirit of the policy rather than complying simply to check a box. We focused on the intentionality of being in-person on our all-in days to collaborate and increase teamwork and learning, while also providing resources to make meaningful connections virtually. We believe that combination of flexibility and accountability strengthens our firm’s culture and enhances our people’s professional success and personal well-being.”

Ogletree Deakins, a leading national labor and employment firm that has been on the list for eight years, continues to focus on creating opportunities to support the career development and advancement of women attorneys.

The firm’s ODWIN Sponsorship Program provides tools to non-equity shareholders who are members of ODWIN to help them advance to equity shareholder status with mentoring circles that bring together members of varying experience levels and practice areas to discuss professional and business development opportunities and other career goals. “At Ogletree Deakins, diversity, equity, and inclusion is one of our firm’s core values and is crucial to our growth and success. We have a long-standing commitment to supporting and elevating talented, diverse attorneys into leadership positions. As evidence, Liz Washko was elected to serve as Managing Shareholder in 2024. She is the first woman to hold this position in the history of our firm. Also, 55% of the members of our board of directors are diverse and 59% of the attorneys elevated to shareholder status in 2024 are diverse. 42.8% of attorneys elevated to non-equity shareholders were women,” according to Lia Dorsey, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer.

Proskauer, on the list for three years, is proud of its Caregiver Return program (CaRe), which was developed to ease the pressure on lawyers of starting a new family by allowing primary caregivers to return to work at a 75% schedule while receiving 100% pay for the first six months following their return.

CaRe launched in 2016, following direct feedback from lawyers who said transitioning back into the workplace after having a child presented unique challenges. CaRe enrollment is automatic to help remove any potential stigma around participation, and a central mechanism tracks those entering the program. Tracy Rizk, an associate at Proskauer, said: “I became a mom during my sixth year as an associate. CaRe gave me the space to understand and adjust to a new normal at an important stage in my career. The fact that there was no requirement to affirmatively ‘opt-in’ to the program made things easier and was a clear signal from Proskauer that they are genuinely committed to providing a soft landing for returning mothers.”

“Seramount is proud to showcase these best practices from exemplary law firms on this year’s Best Law Firms for Women & Diversity  list that have not only stayed the course in their investments in DEI but continue to innovate to use their DEI experience to enrich their firm cultures and the professional development of their lawyers and professional staffs,” said Seramount’s Subha Barry.  “We look forward to celebrating all the 2024 Best Law Firms at Seramount’s Gala Awards Dinner on October 24, 2024, along with Seramount’s 100 Best Companies.  Congratulations to all.”

Karen Kaplowitz, a longtime advocate for women in the legal profession, has been a senior advisor to the Seramount Best Law Firms for Women & Diversity Initiative since 2016. Kaplowitz, a business development strategist and coach, has been named one of Lawdragon’s Global 100 Leaders in Legal Strategy and Consulting since 2018. 

About the Author

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Karen Kaplowitz
The New Ellis Group