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Orrick Partners with Startup to Pilot Diverse Pipeline Program

Feb. 12, 2021, 11:00 AM

Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe is the first law firm to partner with startup Legal Innovators to pilot a pipeline program aimed at rethinking the way the firms recruit and train talent, particularly diverse lawyers.

The program currently has two fellows who were onboarded in January alongside Orrick’s newest first-year associate class and will work with mentors both at Orrick and Legal Innovators.

Legal Innovators launched in late 2019, offering to employ and help train promising new attorneys out of law school while they do work for law firms and corporate law departments who could someday hire them. The startup seeks to lower the costs of training brand new lawyers, while growing the number of practice-ready diverse attorneys.

Big Law has struggled over the years to increase diversity within its ranks. Many firms have attributed the problem to a lack of a robust pipeline of diverse law graduates to fill out their associate classes.

Orrick and Legal Innovators say their pilot program seeks to address this by moving beyond the traditional law schools where firms hire.

“As we know there are extremely talented individuals that are outside of the top 25 or 30 schools and we know that there are many systemic barriers that prevent really qualified, amazingly talented individuals from ending up at a top 25 or 30 law school,” said Siobhan Handley, Orrick’s chief talent officer.

This program is a way to accelerate the reach of Orrick and where it will recruit, Handley said, and will provide mentorship and training opportunities to its fellows, akin to the U.K. apprenticeship model, that the firm could adapt for its future classes of incoming lawyers.

“We’re trying to disrupt,” said Bryan Parker, a former Shearman & Sterling lawyer and one of the co-founders of Legal Innovators. “We’re saying that there’s a better way to manage talent, to develop that talent, and to make sure that within the context of that talent everybody is having an equitable right to come in.”

Big Law firms have historically hired their incoming class from the top performers at the nation’s top 25 law schools.

“If you’re going to take that approach, the law firms or even corporations are always going to be fighting over the same 200 Black associates,” Parker said.

In order to change that number from 200 to 1,000, you have to change the behavior of the law firms and demonstrate that there are plenty of quality students outside just these top schools if firms are willing to look and be creative enough, he said.

The startup is currently partnering with over 25 law schools across the country, including George Washington University, Howard University, Georgetown University, University of Connecticut, and New York Law School.

Parker said that in choosing its fellows, Legal Innovators also tries to move beyond traditional hiring metrics by having applicants do a practical writing test and by using predictive analytics. These analytics, he explained, look at 20 factors like accolades and work experience in undergrad, to determine the potential success of a candidate for a job among the top firms in Big Law.

Orrick’s fellows will receive two evaluations, based on predetermined metrics, one at the end of their first year, and another at the end of their second that will determine their continuation in the program. At the close of the second year, the firm has the option to extend full-time offers to its fellows.

Legal Innovators, which Parker founded alongside fellow former Shearman & Sterling lawyer Jonathan Greenblatt, has already announced another partnership outside Big Law with engineering and construction company Bechtel’s law department.

Handley said it was the startup’s innovative, scientific, and thoughtful approach to recruiting and training that attracted Orrick through its chief innovation officer Wendy Butler Curtis, to become Legal Innovators’ first partner law firm.

Handley said that Orrick is comfortable moving outside the box when it comes to rethinking its recruitment strategy even in an industry that doesn’t easily adapt to change.

“In terms of law firms, everybody wants to be first, to be second, so there had to be a first to take the plunge,” Parker said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Meghan Tribe in New York at mtribe@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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