Let us show you diversity and inclusion at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell (WTO). Our inclusiveness makes us better lawyers, better colleagues, and better friends and neighbors. For us, it is not enough to merely remove discriminatory barriers. We support lawyers and staff to truly be themselves in service to our clients.
Read on for examples of the actions WTO is taking to increase diversity and inclusion in our culture and our ranks. For questions about what you read here, please contact WTO’s Diversity & Inclusion Chair, Michele On-Ja Choe.
Innovative Best Practices
A significant part of retaining and promoting diverse talent is to hire the right people in the first place. As part of our ongoing commitment to innovate and improve, WTO partnered with the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) in 2017 to survey our firm's partners on the traits they deem most necessary for a young lawyer to be successful at WTO in the short term. IAALS had recently surveyed 24,000 law firm partners nationwide and publicized the results.
By comparing our results to the national results, we learned that WTO lawyers prioritize different traits in our associates than partners at other firms do. In response, we changed our approach to recruiting, interviewing, and hiring specifically to identify these traits. Since implementing these changes, 55% of new hires have been women and 23% are otherwise diverse. Those numbers are materially higher than they were in 2017.
Investment in Diversity & Inclusion
In 2020, WTO joined the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), a national organization that creates networking, professional development, and leadership opportunities through intensive fellowships for diverse junior and mid-level attorneys. Our first Fellow and Pathfinder are each working through the program. LCLD also requires significant participation from firm leadership; WTO's co-managing partner, Mike Williams, is the firm’s management committee representative.
In 2019, WTO joined the Colorado Pledge to Diversity, which is known for its flagship summer law clerk program, and we hosted our first summer clerk. Beginning in 2020, WTO will launch a full summer law clerk program. This is a first for our firm, which has always hired out of judicial clerkships or brought on experienced associates as lateral hires. We have taken this step to contribute to the pipeline of future attorneys who identify as diverse.
These and other developments reflect the firm’s commitment to the recruiting, retention, and promotion of diverse attorneys, and to the advancement of inclusive practices across the firm.
- In October 2018, WTO appointed partner Michele On-Ja Choe as the Firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Chair. Michele has been instrumental in driving diversity and inclusion efforts forward at the firm.
- WTO also introduced a new role for a Professional Development Manager. In addition to fostering professional development training and mentoring, this practicing litigator works with young lawyers to hone their writing skills to meet the rigors of complex litigation and achieve success at WTO.
In addition to the new initiatives we have implemented above, WTO has long invested in meaningful diversity and inclusion efforts, including the following:
- WTO financially sponsors and partners with the Center for Legal Inclusiveness, a national legal diversity organization based in Denver.
- The firm was a founding sponsor of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association diversity scholarship program.
- WTO supports financially and volunteers time to Law School . . . Yes We Can!, a pipeline-building organization dedicated to carving a path to law school for underprivileged and often first-generation undergraduates with a desire to enter law.
- Through the WTO Foundation, WTO sponsors financially and volunteers time to the Arrupe Jesuit High School mock trial team.
- WTO's Executive Director is a member of the Pipeline Team for the Colorado Bar Association's Diversity and Inclusivity Steering Committee.
- For several years the firm partnered with local law schools to provide one-year legal residency training to highly qualified and motivated candidates following completion of law school. As a result, two participants moved to full-time employment with WTO. This effort has been replaced by our new summer clerkship program.
- WTO attorneys served on the board of directors of the Deans' Diversity Council led by the deans of the University of Colorado and the University of Denver law schools, and on the Council’s pipeline and retention committees.
Recognition for WTO
WTO has participated in and won multiple national awards, including the MCCA’s Vashon Innovator Award for Diversity Initiatives (2014). In addition, two WTO attorneys—co-managing partner Carolyn Fairless (2017) and partner Habib Nasrullah (2011)—have been named to the MCCA's annual Rainmakers Award list, which honors 10 diverse rainmakers nationwide each year.
Twice in three years Vault named WTO to the Nationwide Top 10 Best Midsize Law Firms to Work For based on its annual associate survey (2019, 2017). The Denver Business Journal named WTO the #1 Best Place to Work in Denver in the extra-large company category in 2018, and the firm has finished in the Top 3 for each of the past five years. Both of these surveys evaluate a firm’s diversity and inclusion initiatives in their criteria. These recognitions affirm WTO’s commitment, adding valuable insight to help improve upon recruiting and diversity and inclusion efforts.