Robinson Gray attorney Beth Richardson and Director of Marketing Janie Langdale co-authored an article featured in the July/August issue of The Federal Lawyer, ‘The Magazine of the Federal Bar Association’. Richardson and Langdale teamed up with professionals from Ogletree Deakins law firm to share diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in their respective law firms. The Robinson Gray section of the article is below, and you can read the write-up in it’s entirety here: “Two Law Firms Paving the Way in South Carolina and Beyond”.

 


 

Enhancing the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Process: Big Impact From a Small Firm

Robinson Gray Stepp & Laffitte, located in Columbia, S.C., provides business transaction and litigation representation across the state. Known for a commitment to legal excellence and community service, D&I has always been an intrinsic part of Robinson Gray’s identity as well. Two of the firm’s founding partners—Becky Laffitte and Betsy Gray—are female, and their names appear in the firm’s name. Currently, more than 40 percent of our attorneys are female. Over the past few years, Robinson Gray has worked hard to formalize and increase our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives and achieve even more diversity in the workplace.

For small to mid-size law firms like Robinson Gray (currently with 32 attorneys), any formal DE&I initiative can be daunting. Fortunately, companies of all sizes can do their part, and smaller firms can often make impactful changes quickly. Robinson Gray has certainly taken culture-changing steps in a short period of time.

Internal Implementation

Strong leadership and firmwide buy-in are vital components of any successful work endeavor. In 2017, D&I was chosen as one of four facets of Robinson Gray’s overall strategic plan, and for the first time in the firm’s history, it became part of the annual budgeting process. In early 2018, Robinson Gray formed a DE&I committee, with members representing every level of Robinson Gray. The initiative was formally kicked off in 2018 at Robinson Gray’s attorney retreat, where DE&I was a main focal point of the agenda. We arranged for talent management leader and D&I professional Jacquelyn Cranford to lead attorneys in a thought-provoking group discussion regarding DE&I in the workplace. Following the retreat, the committee called on Susan Kuo, dean of diversity and inclusion at the University of South Carolina School of Law, to lead a similar presentation for our non-attorney staff.

Also, in 2018, Robinson Gray named its first DE&I coordinator to help lead the initiative. With guidance from a coordinator and committee leader, the DE&I committee established a three-year strategic plan, including, among other goals: (1) the establishment of an ongoing consulting relationship with a DE&I advisor to help institute transparency around the process, (2) continuing education within the firm regarding DE&I, and (3) participation in DE&I initiatives outside the firm.

Engaging an Advisor in the DE&I Field

As to the first goal in the three-year strategic plan, Robinson Gray works with Nika White Consulting, a nationally recognized authority on strategic diversity, intentional inclusion, and organizational effectiveness. Dr. White first assessed our current initiatives to help determine next steps using focus groups, one-on-one interviews, documentation analysis, and employee surveys as part of her firmwide assessment. The results gave insight into areas of success and opportunities for growth. Robinson Gray branded the DE&I committee internally as “You2,” which reflects the firm’s culture and focus on DE&I. In early 2020, Dr. White returned to lead a day-long strategic planning session with members of the You2 committee.

Continuing Education Within the Firm Regarding DE&I

Much like Ogletree Deakins, Robinson Gray recognizes the importance of a healthy work-life balance and promoting a workplace culture that meets its members’ diverse needs. With these values in mind, we formalized human resource initiatives by launching a program in 2018 called “WorkWell.” WorkWell’s mission is to foster an environment where attorneys and staff can all “give, grow, and thrive,” and it comprises four main components involving participation by all firm members: health and well-being (Healthy Habits); professional development (Know & Grow); events and relationship-building (Culture Club); and DE&I (You2). WorkWell updates are emailed within the firm in a weekly newsletter, which has been a useful platform for sharing information regarding DE&I.

Another well-received continuing education effort from last year was the “D&I Five.” Robinson Gray aired several 3- to 5-minute videos produced by the South Carolina Bar regarding D&I at the beginning of team meetings throughout the year. We also invited the South Carolina Bar’s Nichole Davis to follow up on these videos and lead an interactive discussion with lawyers and staff regarding implicit bias. Providing a myriad of opportunities for involvement, connection, and education within the office has helped the firm keep DE&I values front and center to our organization.

DE&I Involvement and Outreach Outside the Firm

Just as important as our internal DE&I leadership, training, and education is Robinson Gray’s involvement in these issues with others outside the firm. Those on the You2 committee, including Robinson Gray’s managing partner, have prioritized participation in and taken leadership roles in many DE&I efforts.

In 2019, one Robinson Gray attorney presented on D&I in law and business at the South Carolina Bar’s SC Leaders Forum, and Robinson Gray’s managing partner, an active member of the South Carolina Bar’s Diversity Committee, participated in its panel discussion on implicit bias. Another lawyer was selected to participate in the award-winning program, The Riley Institute at Furman’s Diversity Leaders Initiative.

Robinson Gray has also been proud to continue its longstanding financial support for and participation with the Black Law Students’ Association at the University of South Carolina School of Law and the South Carolina Women Lawyers Association. In addition, we hosted a Friends-Raiser at the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House in Columbia honoring the “Matriarch of Civil Rights activists of South Carolina,” and we sponsored the launch of the Columbia City of Women project, an initiative to address the disparity of landmarks named for women in the city.

The Path Forward

It is clear that there is no one path forward and no quick fix. Just like Ogletree Deakins, Robinson Gray has learned a lot and made considerable strides in its DE&I initiatives over the past few years, and its journey is just beginning. Policy reviews, recruitment revisions, and continued education are just some of the goals we have in the coming years. Starting with small, incremental steps has helped Robinson Gray set a strong foundation and make fundamental improvements in making our business more representative of the world around us, and we are eager to continue. Whatever your company’s size and wherever you are in the process, let’s keep moving forward together.