Citi in-house lawyer Juli Greenberg was sitting in a conference room in 2018 getting CLE credit when everything changed. She learned that young Black lawyers typically leave BigLaw after two or three years at their firms, and this made her angry — particularly because most in-house job openings at large companies require at least five years of experience at a big firm. The experience launched her on a quest to create DEI initiatives and do her part in improving the diversity pipeline in the legal profession.
Fast forward nearly five years, and the product of Greenberg’s work has reached hundreds of people from every stage in the pipeline — at Citi and beyond. Now an in-house lawyer at General Motors, Greenberg is continuing her diversity work at her new job.
Greenberg’s tireless work in improving diversity in the legal profession recently landed her as the recipient of the 2022 DFW Corporate Counsel Award for Achievement in Diversity and Inclusion, presented by The Texas Lawbook and the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Dallas-Fort Worth chapter.
At the Jan. 26 awards ceremony, Greenberg said she considers herself merely a “cog in the wheel of change,” and while she is encouraged by the progress the legal profession is making, the finish line is still far away.
“We have a really, really, really long way to go before all people of all persuasions and backgrounds have a place in the legal profession — one that’s diverse, equitable, inclusive and, of course, where everybody belongs,” Greenberg said when accepting her award.
“As humbled as I am to have this award … the best thing that would come from getting this award would be everybody in this room really asking themselves, ‘What’s my role in helping to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal profession?’ and to act on it,” she said.
In the following Q&A, Greenberg discusses the biggest challenges facing corporate legal departments regarding diversity, which diversity programs she thinks are effective and the significance of the pipeline.
The Lawbook: What do you see as the biggest challenges for in-house and GCs of Texas companies regarding diversity within corporate legal departments and their role in pushing their outside law firms in being more diverse?
Greenberg: Texas companies should rethink their requirements for legal roles, and they should be prepared to train their hires. Instead of seeking the perfect fit in terms of skills and experience, hire the hardest worker, the most likely to be engaged or the candidate with a different perspective or background. That doesn’t mean sacrificing quality – it means putting more of the onus of hiring success on you. The legal practice is based on mentorship and cultivation. If you had a great mentor or boss, pay that forward and put in the work of developing another lawyer. We owe this to our venerable profession and to the next generation of lawyers.
Texas companies should also hold their outside firms accountable for the complement of attorneys on staff. If you don’t see representation in your outside firm teams, do something about it.
Say something to the firm about what you see. Remind the firm of the importance of representation in assigning work and encourage the firm to reconsider the complement of attorneys assigned to your company’s matters. Ask about the firm’s efforts for recruiting and retaining diverse lawyers. Request the firm assign attorneys to your company’s matters that represent a broader spectrum of experiences and backgrounds. If you do not see change, switch firms.
The Lawbook: What advice do you give law firm managing partners about improving diversity and inclusion?
Greenberg: Rethink your hiring requirements. Great lawyers come from everywhere, not just the top five percent of their graduating class or the top law schools. Many law school graduates have the drive and will to succeed and need mentorship and further guidance to propel them into fruitful careers. Be sure to consider candidates that didn’t follow the traditional path – the armed forces veterans, the candidates who pursued legal degrees at night school, those pursuing the law as a second career.
The Lawbook: What are the biggest mistakes legal leaders make regarding diversity and inclusions?
Greenberg: The biggest mistakes legal leaders make (not just at law firms) derive from considering diversity and inclusion as an organizational goal. That’s too myopic, especially when the efforts legal organizations apply in achieving those goals focus on downstream conduits of an already homogenous candidate pool. The imperative of diversity and inclusion is for legal leaders (and each individual in the legal profession) to take action for growing and diversifying the greater legal profession, regardless of where those lawyers practice. This is a professional priority and a group lift.
The Lawbook: Are there specific diversity initiatives that you believe more law firms should develop or employ?
Greenberg: Yes. I wish more law firms would participate in, or create their own, pipeline-building programs. They should consider mentorship programs for high schoolers, college students and law students.
The Lawbook: Year after year, The Lawbook publishes reports on law firm diversity. Truthfully, the numbers, especially for ethnic minorities, are depressing. Law firm leaders almost always blame the pipeline. Two questions: (A) Are they right to blame the pipeline and (B) are there answers to fixing the pipeline that you have seen?
Greenberg: The pipeline is a major factor (if not the major factor) in dismal recruiting metrics for diverse lawyers. That being said, I don’t think law firms can simply blame the pipeline. They must act to change the pipeline. They should be involved in developing lawyers from all walks of life. Get involved in some of the organizations working in this space – find one or start one of your own.