Promoting DEI in the legal profession is a top priority and one where in-house corporate legal departments can have real impact. It also involves a personal commitment, particularly in the area of pro bono. The term for legal services provided without fee—“pro bono”—comes from a Latin phrase meaning “for the public good.” It expresses a legal community value that we have a responsibility to make justice equally accessible to all people.
I thought about this responsibility as I worked on a pro bono case recently to erase—or expunge—a juvenile criminal record, which can negatively impact applications for employment, housing, and degree programs. Legal Aid Chicago, an organization providing free legal services to low-income residents in Cook County, Illinois, is working with Siemens to provide training to engage in such legal support, plugging us into its pro bono network. It took but a few hours of my personal time to provide a legal service that will tangibly increase access to opportunity for the pro bono client.
A growing number of professionals in our Siemens USA Legal team are actively supporting pro bono work with several other organizations, including Houston Volunteer Lawyers, Legal Aid Atlanta, and Election Protection National Voter Hotline. And while pro bono legal work is a longstanding practice, and in fact required under a few state bar associations, many of us are now practicing it with a new sense of urgency reflecting Siemens USA’s broader commitment to advancing racial justice.
As a new, more powerful racial justice movement emerged last year, Siemens joined the call for real, enduring change. It was a call I heard myself last summer when my family and I visited Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., near where we live. It was a very powerful, moving, and important moment, and my children and I wanted to engage, to find a way where we could be a part of the movement. In that moment and the weeks that followed, I made a personal commitment to be more informed and engaged, and to leverage my experience and position as Siemens USA General Counsel in a positive way to influence our broader effort to accelerate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives both within Siemens and in the circles and relationships where we can have influence.
A year later, as millions of Americans continue to make publicly clear their commitment to racial justice and inclusivity, I am proud to say that our legal team has contributed to Siemens USA’s notable and meaningful progress.
We launched our new commitments by signing the American Bar Association‘s (ABA) Resolution 113 that calls for advancing DEI in the legal profession. We communicated this commitment to the top-20 of our panel law firms, those that represent approximately 75 to 80 percent of our annual external-counsel spend. We also asked each of our partnered law firms to participate in the ABA’s model diversity survey, an annual effort to collect information about each law firm’s own diversity among its lawyers, paralegals, administrators, and other internal professionals.
More than half of those firms responded almost immediately, confirming their own commitment to DEI, and, as I anticipated, that they were already participating in the ABA’s model diversity survey. They shared with us information on their own DEI efforts, including statistics on the diversity of their employees. Over the weeks that followed, almost all the other firms also responded with their own commitment and willingness to provide transparency on their diversity metrics.
I believe this single action—signing the ABA resolution and communicating our commitment to our trusted law-firm partners—unlocking a conversation with our external partners that was already happening on many levels. Learning how much DEI activity our partner firms are already engaged in, and sharing data and best practices, has been a truly eye-opening and gratifying experience, and we’re now starting to discuss ways we can partner to further accelerate our DEI efforts. Meanwhile, we are seeing more women, more people of color, and younger professionals working on Siemens-related matters, proving that shining the spotlight on a topic can generate rapid and meaningful impact.
Another way data is supporting us is through a matter-management tool called eCounsel that helps us manage all our external-counsel billing matters in the United States. We have updated our analytics in eCounsel so that our partnered law firms can voluntarily disclose to us diversity data for anyone who is billing on a Siemens matter. The stats are just starting to come in, but over time this data should yield some meaningful insights that advance our shared DEI goals.
Additionally, our legal team looked into its own DEI efforts internally and launched a DEI Advisory Board for Legal and Compliance. One of its first tasks was to establish a diversity internship, and we are just wrapping up our inaugural summer internship program. My team and I very much hope that this internship becomes an annual occurrence and possibly one that we can expand over time. Indeed, we are starting to shift our mindset about what an internship can and should be—not just the creation of a role but more so the development of a pipeline of diverse talent and the creation of more opportunities for law students to learn about in-house corporate legal departments.
Lastly, as I mentioned, we continue to expand our pro bono work providing legal support to historically disadvantaged or marginalized communities. We continue to engage with an internal Pro Bono Committee to identify opportunities where we can make a difference across the United States and enable all members of our team—all our professionals, not just lawyers—to receive training and provide pro bono work if they are interested.
My team and I continue to expand our pro bono work providing legal support to historically disadvantaged or marginalized communities. We continue to engage with an internal Pro Bono Committee to identify opportunities for us to make a difference across the United States and enable all members of our team—all our professionals, not just lawyers—to receive training and provide pro bono work if they are interested.
Our efforts are growing as more and more of us in Siemens legal are looking for ways to personally support pro bono. So far, Siemens Legal and Compliance, along with our counterparts at Siemens Energy, have provided 179 hours of pro bono legal services on 67 different cases, and those numbers continue to grow. Ultimately the decision to support pro bono work is deeply personal, but those who have engaged agree that it is profoundly rewarding, and a small investment of time can truly change the course of someone’s life for the better.
Our work to support DEI is ongoing, and we will continue to support Siemens USA’s efforts and to be an ally for racial and social justice.
Published: September 23, 2021