The Power of Inclusive Storytelling in Legal Journalism with Katrina Dewey, Founder and CEO of Lawdragon
Katrina founded Lawdragon in 2005. I know that she’s incredibly proud of the amazing team at the forefront of a media company that is proudly inclusive and forward-thinking. She has had the pleasure of editing some of the best legal writers in the world throughout her career and got her start by dropping out of the practice of law.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Welcome to the show, Katrina.
Katrina Dewey: Thank you so much, Jennifer. It’s a pleasure to be here with you today.
Jennifer Simpson Carr:: I recently found out that it is my third year being recognized in the publication among the top 100 Global Leaders in Legal Strategy & Consulting. I’ve shared with you how honored I am. I’m in incredible company. I know Gina is incredibly honored to be recognized on the list as well. Thank you for joining me to talk about this wonderful publication and the rankings that you host every year.
Katrina Dewey: Thank you. It’s our pleasure to honor you. Part of what we take great pride in is finding the best professionals, whether they’re lawyers or other legal professionals, and then to hold them up, right? Not only as a resource for people looking for that professional but also to recognize you for your efforts to help your clients create better awareness of their efforts and of the legal system and all the good that it can do.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Yes. You do that well, and we thank you for it.
Can you tell our listeners about Lawdragon?
Sure. I’d be delighted to. Just don’t let me talk too long.
Lawdragon is a legal media company that was founded in both Los Angeles and New York in 2005 by a group of former legal journalists from the Los Angeles Daily Journal. We had come together there and created a lot of award-winning content, as well as published some of the earliest and most acclaimed lists in the legal industry.
We took those two tracks and started a new legal media company. We thought there was a need for one that would provide free legal information to anybody that wanted it and take advantage of our open publication philosophy to allow anybody who wanted to read about an individual lawyer to read lists, to read about our public interest reporting, to do so for free.
That’s a passion of ours, and we’ve been able to do that by also publishing lists, which obviously, have created some revenue opportunities, which has been great but has allowed us to really fulfill the point of this all, which is an ongoing mission like any great media company. You want to be read; you want to share stories. You want to share information and meaningful information, and that’s what we continue to do every day.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s fantastic. I enjoy reading the reports, the news, and the Q&As with many of the attorneys who practice, who are clients, who are former colleagues, and who practice in really interesting areas of the law that I personally want to learn more about because perhaps I don’t work with that particular practice or industry group at the time or something really unique is happening in this space. Thank you for all that great content.
How do lawyers and legal service partners become published authors or covered by Lawdragon?
It’s easy. Like any news organization, there are stories that we cover because they are of tremendous public interest. Ours has in general been international justice efforts that’s honed by our editorial leader, John Ryan, who has throughout the history of Lawdragon gone to South Africa, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and now spends significant amounts of time in Guantanamo Bay reporting on the 9/11 proceedings that’s going on there. He’s one of only two reporters in the world doing that. The other being Carol Rosenberg of the The New York Times that routinely covers the justice system’s effort to grapple with what happened on 9/11 and the aftermath. We’re incredibly proud of those efforts.
There’s other public interest reporting we do. We also make sure that we do at least our part to highlight inclusive attorneys and legal professionals. Then, there’s the stories that we want to write. We also have clients that sponsor us or that when we publish a list, some attorneys will say, “Yeah, I’d really like you to write an article about me.” We write articles about them. It’s very wide open.
We do as much content as we can for free. We’re also very grateful of firms or attorneys that want to sponsor us and have us write articles about them. It’s not separate from the rankings, but the ranking selection is completely separate from the monetary part of it. It’s the ranking selection and methodology that comes first.
Once we come up with who we believe are the 500 or the 100 most important legal professionals in that area, we give them an opportunity to sponsor content.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s great. I certainly want to ask you more about the rankings. First, I want to mention that I’ve been following John Ryan’s coverage and know that you have a Guantanamo Bay link, a landing page on your site. I’ll make sure that we include that in the shownotes so listeners can learn more about the important work that he’s doing to cover the September 11th trial.
Katrina Dewey: That would be great.
How do lawyers and legal service partners become recognized by Lawdragon, and what is that process?
We publish an editorial calendar of the guides that we will be doing each year on our site under the guides tab. We started out with just one guide in 2005, which was the Lawdragon 500, which is our eclectic lawyers of the year approach, if you will. We didn’t then, but since we take submissions for our guides, we’re not a very heavy nomination process. People can submit a very simple nomination form. That’s also available on our site on a page that just asks for some basic information about the attorney or the legal professional we’re asked to consider.
We publish the methodologies so that people can see roughly what lawyer is most likely to be selected. The submissions are an important part of it, but I think almost uniquely, that’s only one fraction of our total picture because we more so rely on our own research of talking to peers, talking to competitors, tracking as journalists do, who’s working on the biggest cases, the biggest deals who’s winning, who’s not, who’s really making an impression on the way an area of law is developed or just what looks like it’s going to be an upcoming trend in plaintiff’s work.
There’s a lot of independent research and we combine that with the submissions and then run our choices by an editorial board to make sure that we’re not hitting any clunkers or there are not some things that are not known about a person that we would want to know before we include them in our guide.
Then, we publish the list. It’s a very independent. I always say we’re like the free-range ranking organization, as opposed to the caged, because we do take the information that firms and great advisors to firms submit, and that carries a lot of weight with us. We also do our own research work.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s great. Certainly, that diversity of perspective allows those lists to be very comprehensive and very targeted.
Katrina Dewey: It does. It also keeps them very fresh, and it’s given us, a distinctive voice in the ranking and recognition field. We’re very passionate about being inclusive and have been from the outset. We had tremendous expertise creating lists of California lawyers from back in the day to transport that to a national and now a global stage. We’ve had to really study and learn about the other ranking and recognition groups to find what our voice could be within that circle could make our brand unique, right? Not just somebody trying to be another one of them.
I think from early on, because of who we are as a very heavily inclusive group of professionals, and just because of our philosophy in the world, we’ve always sought out, not just the traditional senior, often men, but others who might bring different perspectives. Those who maybe we’re not the typical person that a different ranking organization would be looking for. We claimed that as something that we went looking for and thought we could add our voice to since inception.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: I know that Lawdragon’s rankings and coverage have always been inclusive. I’m very proud to hold up the latest issue. For our listeners, I will drop a picture of the beautiful front, back, and inside cover featuring 19 Judges of Black Girl Magic. It was so inspiring and exciting to see this when I opened my mail.
I want to talk more about the diversity inclusion efforts of Lawdragon. I know there have been pushes for publications and ranking directories to be more inclusive. What we know is that law firms themselves and the legal profession generally aren’t reflective of the populations in our communities.
For this conversation, I want to reference the American Bar Association‘s latest research, which reports that 23.3% of law firm partners are women, 9.1% are racially or ethnically diverse, and 3% are racially or ethnically diverse women. Its latest research reports that 3.3% of all lawyers identify as LGBTQ plus.
Given that diverse attorneys still account for such a low percentage of the legal profession, how has Lawdragon maintained such diverse rankings and coverage over the years?
It’s a chicken and egg issue really, right?
I do want to get back and thank you for the Black Girl Magic shout-out. I love that issue. I love that cover. We all do. We’re so proud of it.
I think that you’re spot on in those statistics. I guess I would say that they illustrate an ongoing lack of commitment by law firms to really walk the walk or talk the talk. They talk the talk now, right? They say they’re so committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion that they can’t put women in leadership positions fast enough, but the truth is the numbers haven’t budged that much in my 30-plus years of writing about law firms.
Even though it is true that we basically look for partner level lawyers to include as other ranking organizations, you have to go a little deeper, which is where the independent research comes in. As you know, a lot of rankings are the product of who a committee or who in a firm they want to put forth. And that’s the non-free-range part of it. It’s you just take what a law firm wants to give you in terms of who you should look at for candidates, I would submit that it’s often reflective of the person they think of as who they would admit to their partnership.
We generally think that there’s a lot to be gained by making way. That does mean at the expense of somebody with us, because 500 is 500, but making way for a more inclusive group of lawyers and legal professionals to be represented. Because I think that they are more reflective of what the law is and what the justice system is intended to be, even as manifested in a private law firm.
Which means that some of the more senior powers that be; those more traditional people that hold the top rankings may fall by the wayside more often with us. And we’re okay with that.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s fantastic. I’d love to follow up on something that you said.
How can law firm leaders support more women to enter the leadership ranks?
I think that they’re making some interesting first steps now. I’m sure that most male law firm leaders would say they’ve been doing it for a long time, but I think that if they had a woman’s perspective, I don’t think that they would feel that those were really productive efforts. If they oversaw promoting women and inclusion in their law firm to the same level that they’re in charge of winning a case or making profits for their partners, I would submit that their efforts would be significantly different and more creatively focused. They need to listen more.
This era we’re in now, a lot of women and inclusion getting titled as practice group leaders or other things is healthy, but then they also have to have authority and some autonomy to use those titles. And to really use that, to transform the culture of the firm, rather than just, a pin, or a label, or a pin on somebody’s lapel that, yes, I’ve got a title now, “Well, use it.” Right? I think law firm leaders are to create the best legal organizations they can, they need to embrace wholeheartedly that the future is women. It’s inclusiveness of all types.
That’s who clients are: the future. And we’re all, as people, I think, very most comfortable with the people who are like us. But part of the joy of working within the legal profession and the justice system is how very many interesting, exciting entrepreneurial people there are who maybe aren’t like us and how we can learn together to create a better future for people.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: I agree. Year over year, data shows us that diverse groups of individuals with different backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives only benefit teams and organizations. I think it’s wonderful that there are more women and more ethnically and racially diverse attorneys. As you said, it hasn’t been big change, particularly in the last 10 years. But we’re on the right path. Something else you said really resonated with me, which is, as law firms, we need to be reflective of our clients.
I give corporations credit because during my time many years ago as an in-house marketing and business development communications professional, we started to receive requests from in-house counsel for diversity statistics. And that was a great first step. But what has transpired since that first point is now, they’re not just requesting information about the makeup, the percentage of diverse attorneys within your law firm, what type of work. They’re asking for what type of work those attorneys are receiving.
It’s a crucial step because to your point, Katrina, it’s not just putting a diverse attorney on a team to pitch a client. It is the client then asking for the firm to report back on what type of work is this attorney handling. Are they part of my team? Are they receiving the same level or similar opportunities to their peers within their firm? It’s an important step because certainly, we know at the end of the day, the law firms are there to support their clients.
When clients are requesting and demanding this type of information, it really forces law firms to take a hard look at how the work is being divided and whether it’s being treated fairly among the parties and giving diverse attorneys the opportunity to step into roles that really can make an impact for a client on a matter, or a case. I appreciate you sharing that feedback.
Katrina Dewey: You’re so right. Those are the efforts that anybody wants: the fair chance to make their mark to the extent of their abilities. Much of the infrastructure of law practice has resulted in marginalizing the opportunities of women and inclusive lawyers. And the real power in a private law practice comes from being a Rainmaker or a business developer, the person that brings in business. There are other paths, but we all know that’s where the star power is. And you can’t be the Rainmaker if you don’t have the clients behind you, if you don’t have the leading role in court, if you don’t have the first role on the deal.
It’s well and good to bring people along as part of inclusive efforts by being on the team. But when you look at women Rainmakers, when you look at inclusive attorneys at the top of their practice, it’s because they bring in the business. It’s because they star in court. It’s because they lead a deal and it’s incumbent on every part of the legal profession. Whether it’s, as you do, helping people market and communicate, as we do, finding the people to highlight and to say these are the stars.
I would say within firms to say, “We don’t want you just at the table. We want you leading the meeting. We want you to be at the top.” And the only way we get there is to just keep focusing on this because we’ve learned that if we don’t, it won’t change.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Absolutely. Going back to a few of the points we talked about earlier with Lawdragon and other publications leading the way in this, it is inspiring for young women, and young women of color. Again, I’m holding up the latest issue. To open their mail or to click on a link and to see themselves represented. It is inspiring. It is important.
It’s so powerful. This is what moves the needle is representation of all genders, ethnicities, diverse backgrounds. For the younger generations in the legal profession to know that there is a path for them, know that there are opportunities. It is so important. Again, thank you for that because this is what the world needs. This is what our profession needs.
Katrina Dewey: Thank you. And that article on the amazing 19 African American women in Houston, Texas, in Harris, County, who ran for the judiciary and won seats, it’s incredible the reaction they have, little girls peeking through the window in their courtroom and saying to them, “Your hair is like mine.” It’s these small things, but these are the things that transform us.
The judges, allowing us to tell their stories of their childhood and where they got their ideas of justice and themselves, whether it was from a debate in church, through sports, but all these connective tissues that brought them to this place of great authority on the Harris County bench, where now they’re changing the perception of justice every day to whoever comes into their courtroom. And it’s a really a beautiful portrait of them showing how change is possible.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Telling their stories is such a wonderful reminder of the power of reporting. The power of the press is really telling those stories in places where they can be heard and where they can be seen.
Katrina Dewey: Thank you. We really love our rankings. We love our lists. I would never shortchange them for a minute. We think they’re the best in the business. We’re incredibly proud of them and every single person that we get to recognize, but our heart is always going to be in telling the stories, right? The lists help us find these stories and help us find stories that haven’t been told, right? They help us create those pathways to come up with… there’s another article in that issue of which I’m incredibly proud that details a 40-year effort by Cravath to help integrate the Birmingham, Alabama workforce.
It was a pro bono effort, and they were on it for 40 years. Damaris Hernandez just concluded it. New York judge, former Cravath partner, Hon. Rowan D. Wilson, led it for many years, but it really illustrates the patience and the perseverance and legal skill that lawyers are capable of that can create unbelievable change.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s incredible. I did not read that article, but I will.
Katrina Dewey: It’s a good thing and it’s a favorite.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: I want to follow up on something you said just a few moments ago. You and your team work with many law firms and leaders in the legal profession.
What advice would you give to law firms that still do not reflect today’s diversity and inclusion in the legal profession? What have you seen that firms are doing well to ensure that their team of lawyers is reflective of their client base and is providing opportunities to inclusive, diverse groups of lawyers to help them move forward in the legal profession?
Great question. It starts with every law firm leader; everybody really should look in the mirror once in a while. Right? Really ask themselves what they want the future to be and look like 20 years from now. Do they think it’s going to look like themselves? Do they want it to look different? Or a law firm looking around the table at its leadership and its biggest business producers and ask itself, is this how this should look in 10 years? Is it how it should look today? Also look at their clients. And go home.
If they have children or neighbors or other close groups of personal friends and think about what is the future that they want for other people? And to understand that we are all capable, law firm leaders, exquisitely of helping create the change that we want to see in the world. I think that some of the things that firms have done to really great effect would be if a firm wanted to have more women partners, they should hire recruiters to go hire the top women partners.
Some of the very top leading, most wealthy firms in the country did that. It shows when you look at lateral movements and when you see diverse and female partners that are being hired by some of the very topmost elite firms, it’s a concerted effort to change the needle of that firm. I think it’s easy. It’s just planning and being committed. If you’re committed to raising your firm’s profits per partner by a million dollars, $500,000, whatever is appropriate for your market and practice, you come up with this strategy.
You come up with an action plan. And I know firms do come up with strategies and action plans for diversifying and becoming more inclusive. I don’t know how rigorously most of them hold themselves to it. I would just challenge them. There are some great advisors in this space. I want to shout out to include my good friend, Michael Coston, who are very constructive in helping firms.
To say, “Is this really the best you can do?” Here are some steps if you truly want to do better and would like to look more like your community, look more like your clients. There are inclusive attorneys out there practicing in every city, in every practice, some more than others who would love the opportunity to play on a bigger stage. A firm needs to say, “Well, we maybe haven’t hired anybody from that firm before, or this person doesn’t check these boxes that we normally like.” That’s okay. They check other boxes. I think deviating from the way “excellence” or somebody being qualified has been judged to say, “Maybe that wasn’t expansive enough. “I think it’s held partnerships and firms back, much like admission to law schools did for years to say, “But this is what we look for.” It’s like, “Well, you have a presumption then that’s right.”
Even if it was right once, maybe it’s not today. You look at some of the early people who blaze trails and what they had to go through, whether it’s some of the first women lawyers, or first women law firm partners. The Birmingham story details some African American lawyers in Alabama who started this case. This was in the ’50s. They weren’t even allowed to attend law school in Alabama.
The state of Alabama paid them to go to schools in other states, including Columbia. There’s a lot of how things have been done. Just being thoughtful about how to do better and being aggressive about it.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: It sounds like “thoughtful” and “intentional” are the right words to summarize what you’ve said so beautifully. We’ve had incredible conversations around this topic on our podcast, but one comes to mind and that is our friend David Hubbard, the deputy GC at Verizon. Something he said just popped into my head when you were talking about this. He calls it “courageous conversations.” Looking in the mirror and reflecting individually and as an organization and having courageous conversations around, should our organization look like this today? How do we want it to look in five or 10 years really is a great perspective to move the needle.
It really resonated with me personally and professionally. But it came to mind when you said that.
Katrina, do you have any questions for me?
Katrina Dewey: I want to hear about Furia Rubel and how you guys have done so incredibly well as a women-owned firm operating in this very competitive space that you’ve managed to become an elite brand in and can advise some of the best legal professionals in the business.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Thank you for that. That’s incredible to hear. We are proud of our reputation and obviously would not be here without our clients with whom we very much enjoy working as a women-owned agency. Gina founded the agency and we are celebrating the 20th anniversary this year.
Katrina Dewey: Wow. Congratulations.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Thank you. We’re very proud of that. As a women-owned agency, we work with law firms, legal tech companies, and legal alternative service providers who value much of what we’re talking about today, which is diversity, inclusion, and authenticity, and diversity of perspective. We help our clients meet some of those goals by being a women-owned agency. But many of our clients tell us they appreciate how diverse our team is in terms of perspective and background.
I could go on and on about our team. We’re very excited that we just brought on several new team members during the pandemic. With the civil unrest and social justice issues of the last several years, we’ve been very heavily involved in crisis communications and crisis management. Going virtual at the beginning of the pandemic, our goal was to diversify our team in many ways.
We’re delighted that we’ve brought on team members from different parts of the United States with even more diverse backgrounds than we have had previously. We’re proud of who we are, and we’re honored about our reputation. We are very happy about the clients that we work with. They are top in their fields. They are invested in the right commitments for their firms, the ones that help move the needle forward in the legal profession. It’s been a wonderful experience for me the last two and a half years to be here, but to also work with the incredible people on our team.
Katrina Dewey: I think what you said is so right, and we feel the same. I would talk about our team all day, about loving our clients and our team. I think the best way to build a great brand is to love your clients and love what you do and overflow with passion for helping people.
How do you advise your clients on issues of whether it’s inclusion or civil unrest, social justice to help them be deeply meaningful with their actions when addressing those issues?
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s a great question. From the onset of speaking with a prospect before we agree that we’re the right fit, we tell them, “we don’t tell you what you want to hear; we tell you what you need to hear.” That comes straight from the top, from Gina. We do not “yes” our attorneys or our firms. We have difficult conversations and we have certainly had many of those over the last several years, whether it was lawyers behaving badly, or unfortunately, many of our law firm offices in areas where there were protests and violence. Safety was a concern – just getting in and out of the office safely, or determining whether to keep the office open. We’ve had very honest conversations. We are transparent. When we start working with a client, we want to know what the culture is like at that organization. We ask: What is your culture? What is your plan? What do you want to look like five years from now? This goes back to what you said earlier, Katrina, which is planning is a core part of what we do. It’s how we support our clients.
If the way your firm looks today is not what you want your firm to look like in five years, let’s make a plan for what that looks like and how you’re going to get there. That’s how we set a foundation for advising our clients in these areas. It’s taking a hard look at where they are and where they want to be, and what are the things that they need to do to get there? What are the resources that they need? What are the resources that others in the firms need? What is the investment by the firm? Working towards those goals. Some of its little steps and some of its big steps, but that’s the foundation for our clients. Where do you want to be? What do you aspire to be if it’s not what you are today and how do you get there? I hope that answered your question.
Katrina Dewey: It does. I love that. Again, like us and thinking about telling stories or rankings, it all starts with honesty. There’s no like passion and intellect and dedication, but I think that one thing that may be distinctive about you and Lawdragon, not that there aren’t others but is just a real commitment to honesty. And that’s the way forward. There aren’t shortcuts. If we put the wrong people on a list, or we write a story with somebody who’s not an expert, it reflects on us.
When you give somebody advice because maybe it’s a little more what they want to hear, it’s more palatable, then their actions are not going to be as strong as they could be. So, I think it’s nice to be having this conversation with you that’s really premised on integrity as a real component of what helps us all move forward.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Integrity and transparency. Again, when I quote David Hubbard, about the courageous conversations, it’s having difficult conversations and being honest and being in a space where it may be uncomfortable. But you know that in the end, you’ve come up with the best decision that’s in the best interest of the firm or the individuals involved. I appreciate you deriving integrity from that answer.
Katrina Dewey: Definitely.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Katrina, I could talk to you all day. I know that we have just a short time that we’ve blocked for this interview. I want to thank you for taking the time and for sharing so much about Lawdragon and your recent issue. It’s been such a pleasure to speak with you.
Katrina Dewey: Well, it’s an honor and it’s been fun. Likewise, I would just keep chattering on, but I guess we probably should do other things. I’m so grateful. Our whole team just wanted to convey our gratitude for you taking the time to talk with us and to highlight our efforts. We appreciate you.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Thank you, Katrina. Before we go, where can our listeners get in touch with you or members of your team if they’re interested in speaking with you or learning more about Lawdragon?
Katrina Dewey: On lawdragon.com, there’s all the information you would want to know about our team and contact information. On Twitter, we’re lawdragon_news, but everywhere else, we’re just Lawdragon. It’s distinctive and we’re easy to find. I’m @katrinadewey on Twitter. We are very transparent and open. It’s fun. We’ve built this entire company by just putting ourselves out there with the premise that everything should be open and not behind walls.
Any progress or any success we’ve had is because of people who’ve come to us and given us an opportunity to write about them or work with them. Please find us. We’d love to meet more great lawyers and legal professionals.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Excellent. We will link to all those places in the show notes.
Katrina Dewey: Great.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Thank you and thank you to our listeners.
Katrina Dewey: Thanks Jennifer.
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