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Northwestern Law joins national initiative to create more diverse, inclusive legal profession

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Move the Needle Fund to test innovative diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law has joined the first large-scale collaborative effort designed to create a more diverse and inclusive legal profession. 

Diversity Lab, an incubator for innovative ideas and solutions that boost diversity and inclusion in law, along with several law firms, more than two-dozen general counsels, a cohort of community leaders, and Northwestern, the sole law school partner, launched the Move the Needle Fund (MTN) --a first-of-its-kind experimental “laboratory” in which new approaches will be incubated over five years in five law firms to serve as a model for the legal industry. 

The goals, detailed on www.mtnfund2025.com, include retention of diverse lawyers; access to career-enhancing work experiences, clients and sponsorship; and advancement to leadership. 

“For decades now we have been graduating classes that are approximately 50% women and are very racially diverse,” said Kimberly Yuracko, dean of Northwestern Law. “We know how extraordinary all our students are, and we are preparing them to be the next generation of our society’s and our profession’s leaders. We have an obligation to ensure that our students live in a world that will recognize and reward their accomplishments fairly and without regard to their race and gender.”

Kit Chaskin, director of gender initiatives at Northwestern Law, will serve as the chair of MTN community leaders, supporting the firms and legal departments in achieving their goals.

“This is the first time in 30 years of working toward gender equity in the legal profession that I have seen a diversity program designed to be data-driven, transparent, iterative and replicable,” Chaskin said. “It’s exciting for a law school to partner with these innovative law firms and legal departments to achieve goals that are critical to the evolution of the profession. We look forward to supporting the Move the Needle Fund academically and practically.”

According to Diversity Lab, despite efforts by industry stakeholders over many decades to diversify the talent pool from law students through law firm and legal department leadership, “the needle has hasn’t moved far enough fast enough.”

“Instead of working in isolation as competitors, these pioneering law firms, general counsels and community leaders are banding together to create a model that others can learn from and emulate using collaboration, metrics, transparency, accountability and experimentation as the foundational elements,” said Caren Ulrich Stacy, CEO of Diversity Lab. 

“Predictive modeling -- with the last five years of ALM data as the basis -- shows that the largest 200 firms in the country as a group won’t reach 50% women and 33% racial and ethnic minorities in their equity partner ranks -- which would mirror the makeup of recent law school graduating classes -- until 2057 and 2084 respectively. The goal is to reduce that by decades with MTN as a prototype for others to follow.”

The MTN law firms -- Eversheds Sutherland, Goodwin, Orrick and Stoel Rives -- have invested $5 million to launch the Move the Needle Fund. This investment will help support new approaches to hiring, work/life integration, work allocation, promotions, feedback, performance reviews and compensation systems. 

The investment also will be used to implement Diversity in Law Hackathon ideas, and test evidence-based research such as the bias interruptersfrom the ABA and Minority Corporate Counsel Association study, as well as other inclusion research from top academics at Northwestern Law, UC Hastings, Harvard and MIT. Finally, the money will be used to crowdsource innovative ideas from other industries. MTN will officially begin measuring the firms’ progress toward their goals in January 2020 and will share the progress on the MTN website.

MTN is inviting law firms interested in joining this initiative to apply via a blind application and selection process. The MTN founding firm leaders and general counsels will select the fifth firm based on the firm’s diversity and inclusion goals and willingness to experiment with new ideas and share the results.

In addition, MTN will annually donate money and Diversity Lab’s in-kind services in excess of $100,000 to existing legal pipeline programs such as Pipeline to Practice, Practice Pro, Silicon Valley Urban Debate League, Street Law, LCLD Pathways, MCCA 1L Scholarship, Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, Law in Tech 1L Collaborative and other initiatives to strengthen and expand current successful efforts.

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