2020 Bright Spots: Lawline Prioritizes Anti-Racism Policies and Employee Mental Health
For many, 2020 will be remembered for its worst moments, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, police brutality against Black people, and the divisive Presidential election. While these events will forever be with us, we have committed ourselves to ensuring we don't encounter such darkness again. For those of us at Lawline, 2020 will be celebrated as a turning point in our company when the leadership team decided to prioritize both our anti-racism policies and our employees’ mental health.
Prioritizing Anti-Racism Policies
After the tragic death of George Floyd during an arrest in Minnesota, and the subsequent Black Lives Matters protests against police brutality and racial injustice for the Black community, our COO Sigalle Barness emphasized to all of Lawline’s employees that “at Lawline, one of our core values is CARE and that means nothing without stating unequivocally that Black Lives Matter.” In a June 1 message to all employees, she shared that in addition to making donations to organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Bail Project, the leadership team would develop meaningful ways to use our platform and resources to fight injustice. She concluded by emphasizing “although we are all physically apart, Lawline is here for you and especially for our entire black community of team members, customers, faculty, and vendors.”
On June 15, 2020, Lawline’s CEO David Schnurman followed up with an email to all of our customers stating that “Lawline unequivocally stands against racism” and that “Black Lives Matter. We support the Black community, including our Black employees, customers, faculty, and vendors.” He also stated that Lawline would be creating an Anti-Racism Task Force to explore our internal processes and ensure fairness and equity with regard to the hiring, on-boarding, retention, and growth of Lawline employees and that Lawline was also committed to diversifying its faculty roster with measurable goals and to consistently providing meaningful and educational content that will equip attorneys with the tools they need to interrupt bias, build inclusion, and ensure equal access to justice.
Since then, the Anti-Racism Task Force has made progress in the areas of Content, Hiring and Donations. Specifically, the Programs Team created innovative programming on eliminating racial bias in the legal profession, on topics such as Inclusive Leadership, Maintaining Inclusivity for Law Firms in a Remote Environment, and a new course for allies entitled “How to Be an Upstander: Intervening in Racism in the Legal Workplace.” It has also built access to justice and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) content into its 2021 annual plan and partnered with organizations to create pipelines for faculty of color recruitment. Moreover, in Q3 2020, Lawline’s course catalog featured its most diverse quarter ever with 22% faculty of color and 54% female faculty. With respect to the employee hiring team, we made changes to our job descriptions to make sure they were more inclusive as well as posted new positions on websites to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds. As a result, we had more diverse sets of candidates in recent recruitment searches. In addition, we held an engaging Book Club discussion on Isabel Wilkerson’s anti-racism themed book, The Warmth of Other Suns. Finally, we expanded our donations to include organizations that help ensure racial equality such as Black Girls Code, the National Lawyers Guild and the Fair Elections Center. Coming up in 2021, we will hold workshops for our employees on unconscious bias; create relationships with organizations who support professionals of color; and employ additional job source boards that target diverse candidates.
Prioritizing Lawliner’s Mental Health
While Lawline has always made an effort to invest in its employees’ physical health through subsidized gym memberships, chair yoga, daily snacks in the office and healthy lunches, after the pandemic began in the Spring of 2020, we realized more than ever how important it was to focus specifically on our team’s mental health. The first thing we did was expand upon our vacation and leave policy over and above what is offered through the Federal Government and New York State’s COVID-19 leave policies. Specifically from March 15, 2020 through April 30, 2020, we allowed employees to receive full salary for any of the 6 COVID qualifying reasons and then added a 7th qualifying reason for employees experiencing mental health issues related to COVID-19. Thus, any employee could take up to 7 weeks off for mental health issues without using any of their accrued paid leave. In addition, we created our COVID Mental and Physical Health Policy where we provided all employees with up to $500 in reimbursable mental and physical health expenses. Our employees have used it for many things including therapy sessions, meditation apps, home exercise equipment, and monthly exercise class subscriptions. In 2021, we will be making the Mental and Physical Health Policy a permanent addition to our benefits and will also add 3 Mental Health days to our already robust Vacation and Sick policy.
We have also hosted mental health support sessions for our employees on topics including Acknowledging Emotional Differences During Change; The Challenges of Remote Work; Positive Personal and Professional Routines; Parenting During the Pandemic; our Rose, Bud, Thorns for the Week; The Emotion Behind Worrying; Processing Feelings on the Election; and Holidays during the Pandemic. These sessions have helped us to recognize that we are not alone and have provided a safe space to truthfully answer the question of “how are you doing”. We have all experienced those moments when we are feeling really low and have looked to our team members for help, and have also been the one providing tips and recommendations on what has worked for us in a challenging situation.
2020 has tested us as a country but one of the bright spots has been how many have showed up to serve their communities, from the peaceful protests across the country for racial equality to the front line workers who have worked tirelessly in tremendously difficult conditions. At Lawline, the challenges of 2020 have forced us to draw our line in the sand in our commitment to anti-racism policies and our employees’ mental health and we know we will be a more successful company for it.