The recent pandemic years have led to various innovations in law firms’ processes and internal organization. They have also changed the expectations of lawyers and employees. “Covid has been an accelerator for a lot of processes” says Dr. Jens Ortmanns, Managing Partner of McDermott Will & Emery in Germany, and Member of the firm’s
Executive Committee. The interview was led by Thomas Wegerich.
Business Law Magazine: Looking at the status quo, what activities, programs and policies are in place around diversity, lawyer well-being and new work in McDermott’s German offices?
Dr. Jens Ortmanns: Here at McDermott, all three of these topics are of utmost importance to us. We have developed and implemented numerous dedicated initiatives to address each of them over the last few years. For example, we have joined the Diversity Charter (Charta der Vielfalt) and are hosting a Diversity Day in all our offices. We have established a networking platform for our female attorneys called “Female Forward”. Furthermore, we are sponsoring the association “Working Moms e.V.” and support it at numerous events designed to promote the compatibility of family and career. Participants receive professional coaching, including media training, and learn how to develop a personal brand. Our inhouse training “MWEducation” allows us to not only provide our associates with professional training but also to offer workshops on stress resilience and mindfulness as well as an unconscious bias training for all firm employees.
Business Law Magazine: (How) Are German offices involved in the international activities – such as the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, McDermott Rise Program, Diversity Talent Development Initiative, Gender Diversity & Inclusion Committee, Coaching and Mentoring Program for female lawyers?
Dr. Jens Ortmanns: McDermott operates globally as a fully integrated partnership. As a result, our international offices are generally closely integrated in every aspect of the business. Led from the US, we have established a distinguished Diversity Committee in which partners and associates from the German offices also actively partake. In this regard, we take great care to ensure that we deal with diversity-related issues in the best interests of our employees.
With our “McDermott Rise” program, we support 20 start-ups per year in the US and this has involved some assistance from our lawyers in Europe by founders of color. In Germany, we provide considerable pro bono support, for example for the startup “ErklärMirMal”, a queer migrant education format. Furthermore, we support the Women Entrepreneurs Law Clinic at the University of Cologne to promote female founders.
Business Law Magazine: How important are diversity and lawyer-well-being in the recruiting process?
Dr. Jens Ortmanns: Of course, these topics play a major role in recruiting. And that’s great. During the application process, we actively and clearly communicate that we are committed to a diverse and inclusive working environment. McDermott is a very diverse firm in which professionals from different countries and with different social and cultural backgrounds work together with mutual respect. We therefore emphasize that our employees share and carry forward these values in the recruiting process.
Business Law Magazine: How did the pandemic influence or change the way of working together at the firm?
Dr. Jens Ortmanns: Covid has indeed acted as an accelerator for some topics – especially relating to the big topic of “new work”. Even before the pandemic we were already well advanced in terms of digitizing our processes, for instance, the firm was already working mostly paperless. This made it easier for us to quickly adapt to the new circumstances. We now have a good mix of home office and regular office days, tailored to specific topics and projects. Even though agile working has an impact on team structures, the processes are now well established and our “new normal” flexible working environment including remote work has been a good experience.
Business Law Magazine: With regard to new work and agile working: What are the expectations of the current generation of applicants? What changes do you see compared to previous generations?
Dr. Jens Ortmanns: Needless to say, the pandemic has changed the mindset and expectations of applicants. We regularly see that the question of home office arrangements, for example, is very important to young lawyers. Because of our flexible approach, working at McDermott is very attractive for young talents.
Business Law Magazine: In many law firms, you can see that there are fewer female lawyers the higher the position becomes.
Dr. Jens Ortmanns: Unfortunately, it is often the case that female lawyers leave a firm when they believe they cannot combine having children with their careers. I am happy to be clear that family planning and a successful career are not mutually exclusive at McDermott. Just looking at Germany, we have several female partners who work part-time with up to three children, at the same time we have female partners with children who work full-time. Each of them has identified the right and individually appropriate way to combine a career with family life. It is important to us that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Both women and men need to feel that they work in the right place. We promote this through individual working time models, but also through coaching and mentoring. It is important to realize that this is a generational issue which is also relevant to society as a whole. This is also evolving rapidly and we will see a shift toward greater diversity here.
Business Law Magazine: What is the percentage of female partners in McDermott’s German offices? And what is the overall female partner ratio at the firm?
Dr. Jens Ortmanns: In Germany, we currently have nine female partners. We are very keen to grow the number of female lawyers in the partnership. Globally, the share of female partners is 28%. We see equality and improvement as a continual goal and important challenge for us.
Business Law Magazine: Do you already notice changing requirements of the clients in the sense of requests for diverse teams on projects? What developments do you expect here?
Dr. Jens Ortmanns: On an international level, it’s common sense for clients to request diverse teams. This is surprisingly not yet always the case with pitches in Germany, but I expect this to more and more change here as well. Great for us as we already present ourselves with diverse teams.
Business Law Magazine: Looking ahead: Where will McDermott be in terms of diversity, lawyer well-being and new work in two and five years?
Dr. Jens Ortmanns: We can see that it is becoming increasingly important in law firms – and of course also for each of us – that our colleagues are able to develop their personal strengths in their day-to-day work. We call this “Bring your true self to work”. An open culture and an open mindset in law firms are essential. Generally speaking, the topics of diversity, lawyer well-being and new work are crucial to our ability to attract and retain the right talent in the long term.
Business Law Magazine: Thank you very much for sharing these insights with our readers, Jens Ortmanns.