We recently had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing Randy Bullard, co-chair of Morrison & Foerster’s Latin America Desk and partner in the Corporate Department. Randy represents multinational clients in connection with cross-border mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, securities, and finance transactions throughout Central and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States.
Throughout his career, Randy has been a true champion of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the legal sector and is driven by a personal mission to promote equality, hoping to shape a profession that is better than the one he entered after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1992. At that time, LGBT+ staff networks, if they existed at all, were not very developed or very public, and there were no mentoring programs in large law firms – a profession where support is everything. As Randy puts it, “Any lawyer who is going to be successful has a mentor in some form that helps their career take off.”
Fortunately, Randy met an advocate in Patricia Menéndez-Cambó while they were working together at his prior firm. Patricia, who is now Deputy General Counsel of SoftBank Group International and General Counsel of the SoftBank Latin America Fund, believed in him and encouraged his career development. Randy grew to become a leader in his own right, becoming a founding member of his prior firm’s affinity program and advising several Latin American lawyers and law firms about how to create, promote, and develop LGBT+ affinity groups.
D&I in Latin America
During our chat, Randy shared his assessment of where law firms are in their D&I journey in Latin America: “When I started law school in 1989, we were one of the first classes to be majority women and at that point we genuinely thought the issue of the lack of diversity in the legal profession would sort itself out through the pipeline. 30 years later, things have not gotten much better overall in the legal industry. This tells us that time alone will not fix things, but rather it takes true efforts and the will to make a difference. Although real results are being seen by individual firms that proactively champion the advancement of diverse professionals, such as at my firm Morrison & Foerster, the legal industry as a whole could benefit from standardised practices.”
An example of such practices that can help change the working culture in law firms is the introduction of flex-time programs, of which Randy is a real supporter as he believes it is an effective way to make sure that talent is not lost. This is crucial because law firms have always struggled with the retention of talent. According to Randy, Morrison & Foerster’s family-friendly work environments and various offerings, as well as its collegial culture, are what contribute to the firm’s ability to not only attract and retain diverse talent but advance them as well.
But, for this to really be embedded on a wider level, a change to the industry’s long held traditional business model is needed, as has been done at Morrison & Foerster, so that lawyers will no longer see keeping on their career track as in competition with other aspects of their life (e.g. building a family or looking after elder parents, etc.).
Moving the dial
Since the first Chambers seminar on LGBT+ diversity and inclusion in Buenos Aires in 2014, more and more Latin American firms have become involved in the D&I conversation and most have visible initiatives to promote D&I as a permanent feature of their businesses. LGBT+ lawyers are increasingly beginning to feel comfortable in being out in their law firms in Latin America, but there is still a long way to go.
At firms like MoFo, future generations of lawyers from diverse backgrounds can find advocates and have the chance to succeed and develop their legal talents to their fullest potential in the competitive landscape of the legal field. Sexual orientation has been in MoFo’s non-discrimination policy since 1984 and, in 2001, MoFo became the first major law firm to have an openly gay Chair. Additionally, MoFo lawyers have devoted countless pro bono hours to working on some of the most significant legal issues facing LGBT+ individuals. MoFo’s historic commitment to marriage equality has now expanded globally, where they have promoted equal access to marriage and spousal rights in Japan and Hong Kong and now, Latin America.
MoFo strives to create and sustain an inclusive culture where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or gender, feels they can grow professionally and make a meaningful difference in their communities. In 2019, MoFo was one of only 25 firms to receive Mansfield Certification Plus for two consecutive years. Certification Plus status indicates that, in addition to considering a diverse group of candidates for leadership and governance roles, the firm has also successfully reached at least 30% women, minority, and LGBT+ lawyer representation in a notable number of current leadership roles and committees. 47% board, committee, and leadership positions at MoFo are held by diverse lawyers, and 46% of the total partner promotions have been women over the last five years.
Supporting the community
Energised by Randy’s positive outlook, we then explored some of the work MoFo is doing to support disadvantaged groups in the community. Recently, the firm undertook pro bono initiatives concerning immigration and the Hispanic community to support asylum seekers. Here are some of the examples Randy shared with us:
- Legal services NYC naturalisation clinic in partnership with Prudential: In New York, MoFo helped individuals move further along in the immigration process – permanent residents who are applying for naturalisation as U.S. citizens. For this clinic, the firm partnered with lawyers and other professionals from Prudential and continued representation after the clinic.
- Enforcing the rights of immigrants: MoFo attorneys worked with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) to represent immigrant minors in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) matters. SIJS is a pathway to a green card for immigrant children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both of their parents.
- Doe v. Wolf: In February, the firm won a significant victory in Doe v. Wolf, a class action brought in the U.S. District Court of Arizona on behalf of tens of thousands of migrants who are subjected to inhumane conditions after being picked up by the U.S. Border Patrol. Cells in the short-term detention facilities are designed to hold people for just a few hours, but many migrants spend days waiting for transfer. The cells were overcrowded, forcing men, women and children to sleep on concrete benches and floors, even in toilet stalls. The government also failed to provide basic necessities, such as bedding and hygiene products. After nearly five years of hard-fought litigation, including an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, a federal district judge in Arizona granted a permanent injunction requiring Customs & Border Protection in the Arizona sector to provide a bed, blanket, shower, potable water, food, and a medical assessment to anyone held in detention more than 48 hours. Along with co-counsel from four non-profits, over 100 MoFo attorneys and staff dedicated over 27,000 pro bono hours to this matter.
Efforts like these underscore MoFo’s values. And, with partners like Randy, promoting diversity and inclusion is a lifelong pursuit. His advice for today’s budding leaders: “Time alone will not fix things. It takes true effort and the will to make a difference. Always lead by example and think about your work ethic, the interactions you have with people around you, and the role model you are offering to those who are searching for someone to look up to.”