“I’ve gained so much from being a member of this network”
For Mohamed Elfarra, being part of the Middle East Affinity Network since his time as a summer associate has been rewarding both personally and professionally. He points out that joining one of the Firm's nine affinity networks (in addition to 20 local women's networks around the globe) immediately enables summer or first-year associates to grow their personal network globally.
“I’ve formed relationships with lawyers in London, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. It’s also really nice to connect with people on a personal level. I have great relationships with mentors and friends that I see outside of work—I’ve gained so much from being a member of this network.”
Staying connected through virtual events
In recent months, virtual events have become an important way for the networks to creatively connect with members around the world. Mohamed gives the example of the online panel events featuring key clients and Firm leaders on their work in the Middle East. "This was a unique chance for U.S. associates to discover more about practicing law in the Middle East and learn about how they could get involved. I don't think you would get the same opportunity at many other firms."
Ivan Navedo from the Alianza Network says that the "ABC" or "Alianza Book Club" helped foster and maintain members' bonds recently. "We meet monthly to discuss books that educate us on the history of the LatinX community and the role of race and culture in our lives." Alianza also hosted a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month with a keynote address from Dr. Robert Rodriguez, a diversity and talent advancement specialist.
As part of their all-virtual summer program, the Firm's Class of 2020 enjoyed a virtual Cross-Network Happy Hour—an innovative and enjoyable occasion and an opportunity for these future lawyers to find out more about each network in a fun, social setting.
Global membership that's open to allies too
White & Case's affinity networks are open to all lawyers and business services staff throughout the Firm. This includes those who identify as allies of a particular group, and those based elsewhere in the Firm's 44 offices across 30 countries.
Clemency Wang describes how the Asian Affinity Network is open to all: "It's not necessary to identify as Asian to join us or to take an active leadership role," she explains. Noting that this network hosts regular social and networking opportunities throughout the year, Clemency says that all members, no matter their seniority, are encouraged to organize events.
"It's about cultivating a sense of community," says Mila Owen from the Black Affinity Network. "We share our triumphs and challenges, and we mentor and support one another."
Making an impact
Apart from the important social role that such networks play, Ivan describes their overall mission: "They are a space for those with experiences, backgrounds or values that are underrepresented in BigLaw. We support and empower each other. And we're a central source of information and support for members, helping them thrive in the Firm and develop their practice and careers."
For Brigid Bone from the Spectrum LGBT+ Network, being part of a network helps members make an impact both within the Firm and externally. "Apart from our social activities, we have committees that focus on different issues and advocate for additional inclusive policies in the workplace. We also work on pro bono initiatives, including recent work for one client to help LGBT+ asylum seekers."
Across all of the Firm's affinity networks, members welcome the chance to hear from outside speakers for a different, current perspective on success. The keynote speaker at a recent event was musician Swiss Beatz who shared his story of success, From the Bronx to Harvard.
And in a momentous year—often for lamentable reasons—White & Case acted on the advice of the Black Affinity Network and moved quickly to offer significant financial support to Know Your Rights Camp, and also committed to match employees' donations to organizations working on issues facing the Black community.
Focus on career development and recruitment
Ivan names recruitment as another key activity for Alianza and other affinity network members. "We want to raise the Firm's profile among minority candidates." He adds that, "The professional development of each member is important. We recently hosted a partner panel where mid- and senior-level associates asked partners for their advice for anyone wanting to make partner. We're also developing mentorship programs, including those for non-lawyers who want to progress in their careers."
Mila also emphasizes the opportunity for Black Affinity Network members to progress their careers. "We host career development training, academic learning sessions, and panels with our alumni." She encourages all new associates to find out more and get involved. "Sign up for our newsletter or come to an event. Our door is always open!"