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WER June 2020 Member Spotlight
Volume LXX, Issue IV

Published June 11, 2020

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MWL Welcomes Your Comments

MWL Member Spotlight: Ann Jenrette-Thomas


Ann Jenrette-Thomas

Describe your professional background and your current employment position?

My personal motto is, "Lifting as I rise." My career path has paid homage to this motto. I started my career working at a few nonprofit organizations, including the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, an advocacy organization for survivors of rape, incest, and other forms of sexual assault. I went to law school so that I could make a more meaningful impact in society vis-à-vis social justice causes. As the daughter of immigrants, neither of whom had a college degree, I was unfamiliar with the ranking system of law schools. I chose my law school based on the progressive courses they offered, like Gender and the Law, Critical Race Theory, and an Antidiscrimination Clinic. Despite going to a fourth tier law school, I was honored to earn a clerkship at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in their Staff Attorney's office where I supported the judges with pro se appeals. Thereafter, I served as a Legislative Attorney for the New York City Council, meeting with constituents and drafting legislation related to health, aging, and government oversight.

I pivoted into big law after obtaining an LL.M. in tax, where I focused on representing tax-exempt organizations and for-profit/nonprofit joint ventures. I struggled to belong in big law. No one was overtly mean, but I never quite fit in no matter how much I tried. After years of feeling this way, I googled "unhappy lawyer."  I came across a book by that title written by a lawyer-turned-professional coach. The book inspired me to pursue a career in coaching, and I opened my own coaching and consulting business focused on women's empowerment and legal and corporate diversity and inclusion issues. Over the course of 7 years, I had positively impacted the lives of thousands of women and other diverse professionals through individual and group coaching, retreats, books, videos, podcast and workshops. Owning and running a coaching and consulting business was one of the most rewarding and challenging things I have ever done. Tiring of the stress related to the financial instability of entrepreneurship and longing for a chance to "re-write" my history in big law, I accepted a role as Stinson's first Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. This role has been a wonderful blend of my passion for creating a meaningful impact and helping others, while leveraging my critical thinking skills, strategic capabilities and coaching skills.

What do you enjoy most about your current position? What do you find most challenging?

The best part of my job is hearing from Stinson's attorneys and staff about the positive impact our D&I efforts have made in their lives. I am proud of the incredible strides we have made in just 3 years, including increasing the percentage of attorneys of color by 90%, increasing the retention rate of diverse attorneys (including women) to 88%, and creating innovative programs, like R.I.S.E.: Rainmaking. Influencing. Succeeding. Elevating. – a business development program for women attorneys. These successes would not have been possible, but for the support of leadership, the dedication of so many people to our D&I efforts, and my wonderful team. The most challenging part of my job is that it is emotionally draining at times. The D&I challenges that occur within a law firm are an offshoot of larger societal and systemic challenges, and are impacted by what happens outside of the firm. These issues are deeply personal and can be heart wrenching.

What do you see as the future of equity, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession? Where might we be able to make real gains?  What will it take to achieve such advancement? 

I feel hopeful about the future of equity, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. When I first entered big law (nearly 15 years ago), there was not as much support offered to diverse attorneys. Most firms had a diversity statement on their website, but today, I am seeing a lot more teeth behind those statements. Many firms now have a diversity council or a diversity professional/team and offer robust programs and initiatives. Affinity bar associations, like MWL, offer great opportunities for expanding your network, finding support and professional development. Non-diverse attorneys are becoming more aware of the challenges women and other diverse attorneys face because of more trainings and unconscious bias CLE requirements. Clients have also been instrumental by including requirements for diversity in their outside counsel guidelines and requesting timekeeper demographic information and firm-wide diversity data. These inclusion nudges are helping diversity, equity and inclusion become a part of the norm within the profession.

In order for us to continue to build on this momentum, the next phase is to have all institutions in the legal profession focus on identifying and removing (or at least mitigating the impact of) systemic bias, such as informal mentorship and sponsorship, career-enhancing assignment distribution, and access to key business development opportunities. It's not enough to just address these issues on the individual level (such as unconscious bias training), but to supplement that with organizational policies, programs, and practices that help create and sustain greater equity.

As new attorneys or law students take the long view of the career ahead of them, what advice would you offer as it relates to achieving their professional goals and finding career fulfillment within the legal profession?

The legal profession can be wonderful: it gives us the chance to engage in intellectually stimulating issues, make a positive impact, and cultivate strong relationships. But, it is a marathon (with hills and valleys!), not a sprint. Make sure to develop good self-care habits so that YOU can be sustained on your journey toward your goals. 




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