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New Big Law Program Seeks to Support Retention and Promotion of Black Associates

By Bruce Love for

More than a dozen large law firms are participating in an initiative starting in July that is designed to help Black associates advance their careers.

Funded by the Arnold & Porter Foundation and designed by the National Bar Association, the Associate Advancement Academy for Excellence is a year-long program that is aimed to equip young lawyers with the skills and tools they need to forge ahead. The program’s designers say they ultimately hope to support the retention and advancement of Black attorneys—a group that is significantly underrepresented at law firms, especially in the partnership ranks.

The first class of the program, which begins Thursday, includes 21 associates from 17 large and midsize firms. Depending on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, fellows would meet either online or in-person throughout the year.

Firms with lawyers participating in the program include Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer; Beveridge & Diamond; Bradley Arant Boult Cummings; Clark Hill; Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton; Davis Wright Tremaine; Dechert; Farella Braun + Martel; Holland & Knight; Husch Blackwell; Jenner & Block; Locke Lord; Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Williams & Connolly; and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

The curriculum includes courses on the anatomy of a Big Law firm, navigating a law firm and working with firm professional staff, the art of business development and learning a client’s business, the in-house legal perspective and building your brand both internally and externally. Fellows participate in monthly educational and networking sessions, monthly mentoring check-ins mentors, and various NBA events.

Besides helping to finance the program through a $1 million contribution, Washington-founded Arnold & Porter will also provide programmatic support for the program—supplying teachers, mentors and the curriculum. The firm is working with the National Bar Association (NBA), the nation’s oldest and largest national network of predominantly African American attorneys and judges.

“Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from our Black professionals and other professionals in the industry, we are looking to help more junior lawyers navigate the different challenges of working in the law—all the things that people need to be successful,” said Richard Alexander, Arnold & Porter’s chairman.

“It’s a class of cohorts that will hopefully have a shared experience with each other, from a number of different firms,” said Alexander. “The aim is to create collegiality among the fellows, as well as provide networking and mentoring opportunities.”

The fellows come from a wide array of practice areas including corporate, litigation, environmental, labor and employment, restructuring and intellectual property.

While Arnold & Porter announced the initiative in December, the firm disclosed more details of the program, and which firms would be participating, this week.

Arnold & Porter is committed to sponsoring the program beyond the first year, Alexander said. “We’ve made a commitment, and we’re hoping other firms will join us,” he added.

The program, Arnold & Porter said, is part of the firm’s effort to address three areas it sees as critical for strengthening the pipeline for Black attorneys: career advancement, business development, and mentoring.

“As we have been thinking about these important issues affecting our profession, we think that there are a number of areas where we as a firm and we as a profession need to do better,” Alexander said.