A word with Melissa Jones on Stoel Rives’ diversity programs

Sharon Fisher//October 29, 2019

A word with Melissa Jones on Stoel Rives’ diversity programs

Sharon Fisher//October 29, 2019

photo of Melissa Jones
Melissa Jones

Stoel Rives has ambitious plans to improve diversity among its legal team.

In September, Stoel Rives announced its participation in Diversity Lab’s Move The Needle Fund (MTN), a national effort to boost diversity and inclusion among law firms.

Through its participation in MTN, Stoel Rives has committed to improving the retention rate of its diverse attorneys (women, racial/ethnic minorities, individuals identifying as LGBTQ+, and individuals with disabilities) to at least equal that of its non-diverse attorneys by 2025, with the goal of increasing the percentage of diverse partners in the firm. To achieve this goal, the firm would need to reduce the attrition rate of its diverse attorneys by 40% to match the attrition rate of its non-diverse attorneys.

MTN will launch in January and continue through 2025 with an emphasis on addressing the challenges of law firms and other legal organizations, such as lack of diverse leadership, higher attrition rates among diverse talent and unequal access for diverse attorneys to career-enhancing work experiences and sponsorship.

In September, Stoel Rives also achieved Mansfield Rule Law Firm Certification, which measures whether legal departments have affirmatively considered at least 30% women, people of color, LGBTQ, and lawyers with disabilities for leadership and governance roles.

The Idaho Business Review spoke with Melissa Jones, Stoel Rives’ firm managing partner-elect, to see what else Stoel Rives has been doing in this area.

Why is Stoel Rives implementing various diversity and inclusion efforts?

Stoel Rives is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse, interdependent, highly performing workforce of dedicated professionals. This commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion is not an arbitrary, feel-good goal. It is vital if we are to meet our ultimate goal of offering to our clients the highest caliber of legal service and diversity of thought. That is why the firm is participating in two groundbreaking programs, Mansfield Certification and the Move The Needle Fund, both of which are sponsored by Diversity Lab.

What is the Move The Needle Fund?

Move The Needle Fund is a five-year model program intended to help five law firms nationwide reach aggressive, measurable diversity and inclusion goals they set for themselves. Together with Diversity Lab and more than 25 general counsels and top leaders from the legal community, Stoel Rives and four other law firms are working together in this first-of-its-kind experimental “laboratory.” Supported by a combined $5 million investment, the program aims to develop bold new approaches that will serve as a model for learning and transformative change in the legal profession and beyond.

What led Stoel Rives to decide to go for Mansfield Certification?

While attending Diversity Lab’s Hackathon in June 2018, one of our Executive Committee members learned about the Mansfield Rule and how it had positively impacted firms that participated in its initial pilot. Through her participation in the Hackathon, she also learned about how diverse attorneys are less likely to put themselves forward for leadership and other job opportunities even when they are very qualified for the positions. She brought this learning back to the firm managing partner and the executive committee and all agreed the program would be a great tool to help Stoel Rives ensure that we are consistently encouraging and considering diverse candidates.

What sort of response have you gotten?

Response to our Mansfield Rule participation has been very positive. The program has encouraged attorneys at all levels of the hiring, promotion and leadership selection process to seek out and encourage diverse candidates. That focus has helped to increase participation by diverse attorneys across the firm, as evidenced by our diversity metrics.

For several years, we have been tracking diversity metrics that overlap with the Mansfield Rule areas – hiring, pitches, promotions and the composition of leadership committees. Over the course of that time, we have seen the gap between diverse and non-diverse lawyers close as we began reporting those metrics to the executive committee and all the firm’s lawyers. Our practice group leads and office managing partners also report to the executive committee and firm managing partner on the metrics specific to their group or office.

Over the past year, we have been more purposeful in our efforts and have raised awareness of opportunities, thanks to the focus on broadening the candidate pool and the tools and resources provided through Mansfield Rule Knowledge Sharing.

In fact, our success with the Mansfield Rule Certification has led us recently to become one of five trailblazing law firms nationwide to launch the Move The Needle Fund.

What percentage of attorneys at Stoel Rives are women?

46% of associates, 27% of partners, 46% of counsel, 80% of staff attorneys and 38% of those in key decision-making roles.

What is the benefit to supporting women attorneys?

The benefit to supporting women attorneys is the same benefit that comes from supporting attorneys of all backgrounds and experiences. We believe that a more diverse law firm is a better law firm. Our efforts to increase the diversity of our firm have been driven by our deeply held belief that increasing diversity – of race, of gender, of religion, of sexual orientation, of socioeconomic status, of thought, of experience, of individuals with disabilities, and more – helps us to be better legal counselors and problem solvers.

In addition, industry is demanding that the legal profession become more diverse. Our existing clients – and the clients we want to attract – are watching for progress in this area. We believe that becoming one of five trailblazing law firms nationwide to publicly commit to reaching certain diversity and inclusion goals through the Move The Needle Fund is a key strategy for continuing to win business from the clients for whom we most want to work.