Warner Norcross strengthens efforts to diversify employee base

Law firm adds DEI manager and focus groups for various communities.
Warner co-sponsored a Juneteenth celebration with the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce featuring a webinar and luncheon attended by more than 170 community members. Courtesy Warner Norcross + Judd

Warner Norcross + Judd’s 2021 diversity, equity and inclusion report shows slow but steady growth, including a new employee resource group for people of color.

The law firm, which is headquartered in Grand Rapids, also has offices in Bloomfield Hills, Detroit, Holland, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Macomb County, Midland and Muskegon. It was ranked in 2022 as one of the top 10 health law firms in the Midwest by the American Bar Association.

Mandice McAllister. Courtesy Warner Norcross + Judd

In 2021, Warner’s DEI action committee dedicated over 2,000 hours to improve firm policies, training and community investments. The committee also hired a full-time DEI manager, Mandice McAllister, an Ohio State University graduate, to lead the firm’s DEI-related programs and processes.

“Now in the 16th year of publication, our DEI Annual Report is a mechanism to show our efforts and hold ourselves accountable to our vision to become an increasingly more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization,” McAllister said. “As the longevity of this publication indicates, Warner has long been committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. However, in recent years we have been more intentional about operationalizing our work.”

The firm last year also made good on a commitment made in 2020 to diversify its candidate pool, putting a policy in place to ensure that at least 30% of candidates for every position at the firm be from groups currently underrepresented in the firm or in the position being hired. Underrepresented groups this policy covers include women, people of color, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.

In 2021, the firm easily surpassed that goal in lateral attorney candidates (candidates being hired into Warner at the same level at which they operated at their previous firm), 60% of whom were from underrepresented groups.

The firm also established a new sponsorship with JD Advising’s Law School Scholars Program, a program connecting first-year law students from underrepresented communities to top law firms. With this new sponsorship, Warner was able to provide six law students access to a law school preparation course, tutoring and mentorship opportunities.

Warner also launched Mosaic, an employee resource group for people of color, in 2021. Mosaic includes employees of various racial and ethnic identities from a variety of positions within the firm who meet monthly via Zoom to mentor one another and help one another thrive.

The firm’s Diversity Book Club, established in 2013, continued to tackle difficult topics in the past year through reading books, watching films and listening to podcasts that cover issues such as social justice and racial identity.

One day after President Joe Biden established Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021, Warner co-sponsored a Juneteenth celebration with the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. The celebration featured a webinar and luncheon attended by more than 170 community members.

Additionally, the law firm also conducted town halls and lunch-and-learn events with employees throughout the year, discussing topics such as LGBTQ inclusion and allyship. Warner contributed to over 150 nonprofits in 2021 as well, allocating 27% of donations to nonprofit organizations dealing with education and economic development, 25% to health and human services nonprofits and 13% to nonprofits focused on DEI.

In the recently released 2021 DEI report, Warner also included the firm’s demographics for that year. The demographics showed that while percentages of female employees have increased significantly when compared to previous years, increases in employees of color are slower on the uptick.

According to the 2021 report, 37%, or 74, of Warner’s 199 active attorneys identified as women, a sharp rise from 2020’s 32% and 27% five years previously in 2016 (49 out of 178) and 10 years previously in 2011 (49 out of 183).

Demographics for attorneys of color are slower to rise, however. Ten years ago, in 2011, Warner reported that 7.7% of its 183 active attorneys were people of color. Of those 183 attorneys, none were Black women, three were Black American men, four were Middle Eastern/Arab American, five were Asian/Pacific Islander and 169 were white.

In 2016, that percentage dipped slightly, with only 7% of the firm’s 178 active attorneys identified as people of color. Four of the 178 attorneys were Black, four were Asian/Pacific Islander and 165 were white.

2020 showed an increase by 1%, with 8% of the firm’s 214 active attorneys identifying as people of color. Eight attorneys at the firm were Black, one was Asian, one was Hispanic and 198 were white.

Warner’s 2021 report showed that the percentage of attorneys of color had increased in the past year, now standing at 8.5%. Of the firm’s 199 active attorneys in 2021, 10 identified as Black, one identified as Asian and 182 were white.

According to McAllister, the firm is focused on building a foundation of cultural learning and openness that will pave the way for an incoming generation of diverse employees that Warner hopes to attract. She sees the value in holding conversations around topics that have been, in past years, taboo in the workplace and nurturing awareness and maturity in areas of workplace DEI.

“In this year’s report, we are proud to show our progress in both the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion and corporate social responsibility,” McAllister said. “We look forward to continuing to publish the DEI Annual Report, and sharing our progress with our clients, community members and stakeholders in the years to come.”

Going into 2022, McAllister already has made headway in inclusionary efforts, including launching the company’s first LGBTQ employee group Pride At Warner, or PAW. PAW kicked off on June 22, with a rooftop celebration at Warner’s Grand Rapids headquarters.

“I am thrilled to be supporting them,” McAllister said.

Warner also announced last week its partnership with Greater Grand Rapids National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) and Legal Aid of Western Michigan to provide free legal assistance to people looking to expunge their record as part of the Clean Slate Pathway project.

The Clean Slate Pathway, launched by Legal Aid, will help change the lives of many West Michigan people seeking to leave behind past criminal history to find employment and contribute more fully to society.

Legal Aid, Warner and NAACP of Grand Rapids are focusing services on lower-income communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted within the criminal justice system.

“We are honored to partner with Legal Aid and the NAACP on this critically important initiative,” said Christian Meyer, pro bono co-coordinator at Warner. “From providing opportunities for career advancement to opening doors to travel, expungement delivers the kind of practical, real-world results we all want to obtain for clients. We recognize our legal assistance improves opportunities and lives for so many in our community.”

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