The Gibbons Diversity Initiative (GDI) promotes inclusion both at the firm and throughout the legal and business communities, particularly with respect to women and minorities. Gibbons is, and has been since our founding in 1926, headquartered in Newark, a city with a dynamic, diverse population from which we have always drawn a significant portion of our employee base. We have, therefore, always been aware of the distinct value diversity brings to a workplace. Diversity provides valuable perspectives, cultural competence, and talents that allow us to be more creative, effective, and ultimately successful in the practice of law and service to our clients; diversity of perspective results in diversity of solutions, and we are in the solution delivery business.
GDI is a comprehensive strategy, comprising both internal and external components, that puts into action a longstanding commitment and involves all aspects of the firm’s operation.
Profiles in Diversity Journal, which recognizes corporations, organizations, and institutions that have developed innovative solutions with measurable outcomes in the areas of workforce diversity and inclusion, has honored Gibbons with various recognitions over the years, including “Diversity Leader” highlights of our Executive Chairperson and our Chief Diversity Officer, and “Innovations in Diversity” awards for GDI-123, our supplier diversity program, as well as for our thought leadership of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s diversity initiative; our Clerkship to Associate Pipeline Program, which assists highly qualified students of diverse backgrounds to prepare for post-law school employment; and joint efforts of GDI and Gibbons Cares. In 2022, the firm was also acknowledged for its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) with an inaugural DEI Trailblazer Award from the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. In addition, Gibbons was selected as a “Great Workplace for Diversity” by the independent analysts at the Great Place to Work consulting firm and as a “Best Law Firm for Diversity” in the annual survey, conducted by Vault, a national career development resource. The firm’s Women’s Initiative has been similarly honored, most notably with the prestigious, international Catalyst Award, one of the preeminent corporate honors recognizing outstanding achievement in the advancement of women in the workplace.
Cultivating a Diverse Workforce
GDI’s internal component focuses on training, mentoring, retention, and innovative programming to ensure an inclusive workplace and workforce.
Training & Development
Through the firm’s heralded “Gibbons Academy,” Gibbons devotes substantial time and resources to the training and development of all firm lawyers. For associates, these programs are designed to broaden their substantive knowledge on selected topics, impart valuable skills that will improve their practices, and provide them with increased director-level contact. GDI’s specific training series consists of meetings run by various directors in the firm, as well as outside speakers, and focuses on the development of minority and women attorneys in particular. GDI also presents substantive legal and non-legal educational programs and a variety of civic and cultural networking opportunities for an esteemed group of corporate minority executives and leaders.
The firm’s mentoring programs formalize the relationship between senior and junior attorneys and provide a means for the firm’s next generation to gain insight and assistance from more established attorneys. Junior attorneys develop action plans covering the areas on which they would like to focus, and mentors assist them in reaching their goals. Our Director-to-associate and associate-to-associate mentoring programs provide valuable career guidance, institutional and professional knowledge, and support through careful mentor/mentee matching and monthly meetings. Associates at various levels in the firm are paired with Directors, also at various levels, who assist with integration in all aspects of firm life, provide career counseling, and identify opportunities for growth.
The firm attracts and retains its top-tier workforce through such initiatives as the “Gibbons Experience,” a generous benefits program that includes many policies specifically designed to promote the equality and success of our women and minority professionals. For example, after parental leave, an attorney can opt to return to work first on a 60 percent basis of the hours expected of a full-time attorney, and, after one year, on an 80 percent basis for an indefinite period of time. These policies do not affect an attorney’s ability to be promoted. Additionally, Gibbons supports an emergency child care program and partially subsidizes the cost for this service each day it is used.
Gibbons also helps our professionals achieve work/life balance through technology initiatives that provide the flexibility to work remotely as necessary. The firm has implemented state-of-the-art systems that support a truly mobile workforce — allowing employees to connect seamlessly to the firm’s network and all other technology capabilities, whether they are in courthouses, client meetings, or home offices. One application allows employees to have calls automatically forwarded to their mobile devices or even other locations. In addition, Gibbons outfits personnel with laptops, or with the appropriate software for their home desktop computers, to enable remote access to the firm’s entire network, replicating the employee’s office desktop at home. This allows for increased client communications, with attorneys being reachable from a variety of locations, and also creates the flexibility needed to assist in work-life balance.
Thought Leadership & Pipeline Programs
Through GDI, Gibbons strives to make a significant, lasting impact on diversity in business and the legal profession in a way that enhances client service and business success. Gibbons has made it a priority to encourage leaders within the legal industry to implement diversity best practices.
Guiding New Jersey’s Legal Community
GDI has been positioned as a model for other organizations and for the organized bar. Gibbons strives to be an intellectual center on the topic of corporate diversity; we disseminate our research and insight while also serving as a forum for preeminent experts in the field. The firm’s former Chief Diversity Officer, Luis J. Diaz, and the firm’s Executive Chairperson, Patrick C. Dunican Jr., co-authored an influential article in the Seton Hall Law Review, “Ending the Revolving Door Syndrome in Law,” which focused on the higher attrition rates diverse attorneys experience in corporate law firms relative to their non-diverse peers. The article suggested possible reasons for this “revolving door,” discussed the negative business implications of decreased diversity, and detailed strategic steps organizations can take to manage key business processes in a way that can help eliminate retention disparities. Moreover, the article recommended ways in which the organized bar could serve as a resource for implementing these tools throughout local law firms, further positioning Gibbons diversity solutions as models for the broader legal community.
Leading Professional Associations
Gibbons attorneys are active in minority bar associations and similar organizations, including the National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest and largest national association of predominately African American lawyers and judges, as well as the Hispanic Bar Association and Minority Corporate Counsel Association. Diversity Committee members are also encouraged to become involved with more general industry organizations or professional associations, so that issues of diversity remain evident even in the broadest business networks. For example, Gibbons Diversity Committee members participate in the Commerce & Industry Association of New Jersey, New Jersey Business & Industry Association, Newark Regional Business Partnership, and numerous practice specific industry organizations. This visibility promotes our values even outside the particular context of diversity.
Presenting Sophisticated Programs
GDI programs successfully attract some of the area’s preeminent experts on corporate diversity initiatives, including purchasers of legal and other professional services and products. They provide first-hand insight into the across-the-board business benefits of workplace diversity. For example, various GDI programs have featured senior executives and chief diversity officers from such companies as Microsoft, Deloitte, Chubb, and PSE&G, each of whom made a unique business case for diversity and inclusion.
Supporting Pipeline Initiatives
Developing future generations of leaders is integral to GDI’s efforts and a key differentiator of our program. Each spring and fall, the Clerkship to Associate Pipeline (CAP) Program, launched in 2018 and led by Chief Diversity Officer Robert Johnson, assists several highly qualified students of diverse backgrounds, selected by participating faculty and administrators of three area law schools (Rutgers-Newark, Rutgers-Camden, and Seton Hall), to prepare for post-law school employment. For second-year students, CAP helps prepare for the clerkship hiring process. Our attorneys conduct comprehensive mock interviews and additional structured Q&A sessions with participants. We consider whether a given participant might be particularly suited to one or more of the judges with whom we have worked closely and, if so, make appropriate introductions. Second-year law students participants can also earn an early inside track to employment at Gibbons after completing their clerkships. For third-year law students, CAP focuses on the post-clerkship associate hiring process. Our attorneys help participants highlight different aspects of their clerkships during interviews for associate positions. Third-year students who participate in CAP also receive priority consideration for associate positions at Gibbons after completing their clerkships.
Since 2008, the firm has hosted a week-long internship for students from the New Jersey Law and Education Empowerment Project (NJ LEEP), a program that empowers urban youth in grades 8 through 12. At Gibbons, these students learn about the practice of law and the conduct of legal research; at the end of their week, they compete in a Moot Courtroom debate before one of the retired judges at the firm. In addition, the firm offers three-week administrative internships to these students if they are interested.
Gibbons also takes part in the USHAA Fellowship, a partnership with the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey and the Center for Hispanic Policy Research and Development, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. The fellowship selects some of the nation’s brightest and most promising minority scholars and exposes them to all aspects of advocacy — legal, legislative, and community grassroots — through part-time internships with judges, legislators, and major law firms, including Gibbons, as well as through bi-weekly training with national advocates. GDI has graduated many years of classes through the USHAA component, including numerous students who went onto law school.
Many corporations demand an integrated approach to marketplace, workplace, and supplier diversity, to compete more effectively in the new economy, ensure that diverse professionals at majority firms thrive, and create opportunities for minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs).
Historically, these initiatives have operated separately and with different stakeholders; a new model was required. Our solution at Gibbons was to launch a supplier diversity program, GDI-123, that addresses the different objectives of various constituencies in the vendor/client relationship. GDI-123 engages clients and provides women- and minority-owned businesses and law firms procurement and other strategic business opportunities. We also conduct education sessions to assist our suppliers in the certification process and have actively participated in workshops to gain visibility in the minority- and women-owned business communities.
Helping Clients Realize a Triple Bottom Line
GDI-123 helps Gibbons and clients realize a triple bottom line: (i) meeting diverse spend goals with qualified M/WBE vendors; (ii) utilizing diverse Gibbons attorneys with total quality management of services; and (iii) obtaining competitive blended rates for legal services and/or optimum prices for other products and services. The GDI-123 administrator directs the entire business process, so no administrative burden is placed on clients’ in-house personnel. Diverse spend and resource utilization goals are set based on each client’s particular objectives. We maximize diverse attorney utilization and additionally assign projects using proprietary nationwide databases of certified M/WBEs, including client-requested vendors. The GDI-123 administrator negotiates pricing with vendors to ensure competitive blended rates. Upon completion, GDI-123 projects are subjected to a proprietary quality review process.
Helping M/WBE Suppliers Become Certified
During service delivery, Gibbons also mentors the M/WBE providers as required, conducting education sessions to assist with certification, teach best practices, and promote visibility for M/WBEs, helping to increase the ranks of such businesses.
Making the Business Case
The identification of a large pool of qualified, certified M/WBE vendors fosters competition and results in better service, price, and quality. Moreover, M/WBEs have been increasing at much greater rates than non-M/WBE companies in the U.S. have been. It simply makes business sense for Gibbons to affiliate with such a fast-growing market segment. By supporting M/WBEs that value inclusion, we help them to succeed and thus support our own corporate values: the more they succeed, the more likely they are to hire and promote a diverse workforce. GDI-123 has so impressed the clients to whom we have presented it that some, in turn, have disseminated the program within their own companies and beyond as an integrated diversity solution with a triple return.
Nurturing a Diverse Community
Since 2007, the Gibbons Diversity Initiative (GDI) has served as a vital platform for developing and implementing policies and programs to achieve, maintain, and expand diversity throughout the legal and business communities, both in Newark, where the firm is headquartered, and throughout New Jersey.
Diverse businesses engender a spirt of inclusiveness, and when they do well, they not only boost the economy, they also create jobs for area residents, uplifting and strengthening the community. In promoting a diverse workforce, GDI focuses on communities of color, as well as minority- and women-owned business enterprises, which typically have lower success rates and face greater struggles in securing investment funding.
Often in concert with the Gibbons Cares Pro Bono Program, GDI helps to anchor these businesses through involvement in such programs as:
Small Businesses Need Us, an initiative of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership in which Gibbons is a partner, assists small women- and minority-owned businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021 alone, the firm’s participating attorneys donated more than 645 hours to the program to clients ranging from a STEM enrichment program for students, to an event management company, to a life and business empowerment coach. Through their volunteerism, Gibbons attorneys have, for example, resolved a landlord-tenant dispute in favor of the Athletic Arts Academy, the country’s largest gymnastics academy for minority girls, and also restructured the ownership of oneKIN, a curated online marketplace with a focus on minority customers, when two of the original four principals chose to leave the company.
AACCNJ Pro Bono Alliance was established in 2022 in partnership with the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ) to support AACCNJ member companies in launching, sustaining, calibrating, or advancing their operations. Through the Alliance, which focuses on small women- and minority-owned businesses, particularly independent practitioners and legacy companies, Gibbons attorneys across practice areas volunteer their time and talent to provide legal counsel on a range of matters, including employment law, real estate, intellectual property, cyber security, and much more. In one instance, the firm’s attorneys assisted a business in a civil action to secure possession of a property that the business had purchased in foreclosure.