3 min read August 2022 — Jami McKeon, chair of legal firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, discussed with Invest: the current evolution of the firm and industry. Topics such as diversity and mental health are becoming much more prominent across the industry, and Morgan Lewis, soon to have its 150th anniversary, is leading the way.
Morgan Lewis is frequently cited as one of the top law firms in the country. What do these accolades represent?
I always say to our colleagues that I think it is a mistake to chase rankings or accolades. What is really important is what you do, not whether you are recognized for it. However, it is very rewarding when you are recognized for getting it right. We were recently recognized by The American Lawyer in the Top 10 of its A-List, which is a ranking I particularly care about because it combines not just financial performance, but also cultural benchmarks that include associate satisfaction and commitments to pro bono and diversity. So, when you look at the breadth of things about the firm, and the firm is getting a lot of things right, that is really where you want to be. Ratings and accolades are great if they reflect that you are doing all the right things.
How does the legal industry shape up when it comes to diversity?
It is acknowledged widely that the legal profession has lagged behind with diversity. We were one of the first firms ever to elect a woman chair, and we’re also the biggest firm to have a woman chair, but there are few others. I was recently at an event with other CEOs of major law firms, and there were only about four of us women there. We are also blessed to have as one of our leaders my partner Grace Speights, who is one of the most well-known black lawyers in the country and one of the best labor and employment lawyers as well. Grace and I have been at the firm for decades, and diversity is a priority for us and the firm. Through our efforts, we have recruited and mentored diverse lawyers who are now in positions of significance.
In Philadelphia, I think there is a great emphasis on diversity among business leaders and some of the largest organizations in the city, so things are beginning to change. We still don’t have too many women in leadership roles at law firms in Philadelphia, but I think we are getting there and making progress.
How is Morgan Lewis tackling mental health issues?
The legal profession is widely regarded as one of the professions that is most at risk from a mental health perspective — to the point that it is almost an outlier. There is a higher risk for suicide, a higher risk for drug addiction, and a higher risk for alcoholism. There are many professions that are stressful, so I don’t think it is enough to just say that it is a stress-inducing career.
Dr. Larry Richard (based in Philadelphia) writes a blog at opens in a new windowlawyerbrain.com. For decades he has studied the psychology of lawyers from all different backgrounds and has found that lawyers tend to share similar personality archetypes. Lawyers tend to want autonomy, be highly skeptical, have low optimism, and have very low resilience. A lawyer’s job is kind of to worry about everything — to identify potential issues and then problem solve. We teach them at school to be perfect and know that if they mess up it could be detrimental to the client’s business, or they could compromise their career or even their license. And to this we add a stigma against asking for help. This all combines to create an environment that can be very bad for mental health.
About five years ago, our firm decided that we were going to make mental health and well-being a strong focus for us. Under our chief engagement officer (one of, if not the first, in our industry), we hired a director of well-being with a degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania to help build our program ML Well. We started speaking to our people and building up programs on mental health ever since then. One of our leaders opened up about his own struggles. As a result of all this, if someone is struggling at our firm, they know that we will be there to help them.
How is technology changing the way things are done at Morgan Lewis?
We are big believers in technology. To call technology “a trend” doesn’t make sense; it is omnipresent. For example, at this very moment we are using technology that didn’t exist a few years ago to do this interview. As technology has developed, we at Morgan Lewis continue to invest in it more and more over the years.
In the legal industry, knowledge management is a top priority. Being able to quickly access information relevant to deals, litigation, dockets, research and countless other things, as well as our firm’s related experiences and capabilities, allows our people to work faster, smarter and more efficiently, all while reducing risks and costs to benefit our clients. We are building a state-of-the-art KM program, and our in-house cross-functional KM team includes technical professionals, process designers, IT professionals, financial analysts, business operations personnel, and, of course, licensed attorneys. We work with our lawyers and clients every day to refine and enhance customized solutions, and technology even allows us to have solutions that we and our clients can access together.
What makes Philadelphia a great place to live and work?
Philadelphia is a very special place to us because we started here and have been here forever — we’re about to celebrate our 150th anniversary. We have lawyers here who represent an incredibly broad array of clients in almost every industry in the area. We represent many companies that have been here for decades, and we are active in the vibrant Philadelphia startup community. Our Philadelphia team also actively supports local organizations and causes that contribute to the success of our community, and sometimes our community and client focus overlaps, such as in our pro bono practice or in our emerging business practice, which keeps entrepreneurs close to the financing resources that fund today’s growing companies through our established relationships with the venture capital and investment banking communities specifically within the local market.
The leaders in Philadelphia are really pushing for the city to be the best it can possibly be. When you think about the location of Philadelphia being between New York and Washington, D.C., the “eds and meds” and innovation center the city offers, the travel hub it serves as, the sports, the higher education system, the great neighborhoods, the fabulous restaurants, the cost of living, and the overall quality of life, Philadelphia is somewhere everyone should want to be.
What is your outlook?
We are very fortunate. Our firm has done quite well in its 150-year history from our founding in Philadelphia to our now 4,000 people in 31 offices around the world. We continue to be busy and in demand across the globe, but I have special pride in what we hope we have contributed to this city. We want to be the best firm we can be while also being the best world citizen that we can be. Technology and change have made the world a smaller place than when I started practicing law, and law firms, including ours, are speaking up and recognizing their obligation to contribute to society on a broader scale. I believe this will continue into the future.
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