Morgan Lewis boosts diversity efforts with $20k scholarship

Morgan Lewis has begun providing what it describes as “material financial support” to summer associates as part of the firm’s commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion.

London managing partner Frances Murphy said the firm had launched a scholarship programme in its US offices via its ML Foundation Diversity Scholarship Program, in which two and three-year associates are offered $20,000 a year if they can demonstrate academic excellence as well as financial need.

“In London we now also have a particular focus on the career development of women lawyers, lawyers of colour, and LGBT lawyers,” said Murphy, “while for all lawyers regardless of gender, creed, colour and sexual orientation we monitor their progress closely to ensure that they are progressing on merit and not according to a formalistic, box-ticking approach, or are not progressing for some reason that is without merit.”

The London office of Morgan Lewis has introduced an LBGT team, headed by corporate partner Tim Corbett. Murphy said this was “not just a forum for people to get together” but was aimed at ensuring that through talking and receiving feedback, the London office was “doing all that it can to attract, retain and promote talent on the basis solely of merit”.

To that end the US firm has also recently launched a training programme headed by partner David Bowman aimed at reducing levels of implicit bias.

The moves suggest that firms are not simply paying lip service to issues such as diversity and inclusion but are investing in fostering longer-term change with a view to garnering tangible firm-wide benefits.

“We have always been a diverse firm, our chair [Jami McKeon] is female and that gains attention,” said Murphy. “But these days firms are being required by clients to account for what is done on a diversity and inclusion basis. This has brought everything into focus. It used to be more acute in the US but now we’re seeing it here. When we’re pitching, clients want to know the make-up of your team as well as what diversity programmes the firm has. They want to know if we have a meeting of minds.”

This year’s US Top 50 report focused on the growing trend for US firms in London to make significant investments in areas such as training and development in a bid to recruit and retain the market’s top talent. The report also included more specific data on a range of diversity and inclusion-related metrics across all of this year’s top 50 US firms.

For example, in Morgan Lewis’ London office 21 per cent of its current associates are first generation university attenders. Of those, 12 per cent are from ethnic minority backgrounds while 6 per cent identify as LGBT. The firm also reported that 1 per cent of its current associates is disabled.