CAREERS PODCASTS


Dr. Arin Reeves
Researcher, Author and Advisor on Leadership and Inclusion
President of Nextions

You probably hear a lot about what law firms are doing to become more diverse and inclusive. But what does the research say actually works? Author, researcher and lawyer Dr. Arin Reeves offers evidence-based recommendations on how law firms can interrupt confirmation bias, better help diverse and women lawyers succeed, and build lasting relationships across diverse groups.

Dr. Arin Reeves

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Resources

• Nextions Website

• Link to Dr. Reeves’ Books

Show Notes

Mitch Zuklie:

Hi, this is Mitch with another version of our Orrick Podcast, and I’m thrilled to have as our guest today Dr. Arin Reeves. Dr. Reeves is one of the foremost thinkers on the issues of inclusive leadership, collaboration and diversity of the legal profession. We’ve been very fortunate to have Dr. Reeves speak with many teams at Orrick, from our lawyers of color to our litigation IP teams, and I’m incredibly excited to share her perspectives. Dr. Reeves, welcome.

Dr. Arin Reeves:

Thank you so much.

Mitch:

Arin, you’ve got a JD and a PhD in sociology, so clearly you like school. What inspired you to combine these two interests and to forge your own path?

Arin:

I like to say I’m not a hundred percent sure that I like school. However, I loved law; I love law still. But when I was starting law school, one of the first cases that really, really interested me was Brown vs. Board of Education. What really stuck with me after I researched the case and really understood it is that we’re a precedent-based profession, and if we want to change things in society, precedent won’t really get us that far. The thing about Brown v. Board is what allowed them to make the arguments that advancing the diversity and advancing equality was actually social science, a relative of psychology research. And after that, I just kept getting interested in cases where I saw social science advance the legal profession, advance the legal system, advance jurisprudence and law in a way that just precedent couldn’t. And so, it was always in the back of my mind, and as I started practicing law, it became more in the front of my mind and I kind of bit the bullet, went back to school, got my PhD, and then I dabbled in academia for a little bit, and then realized I really liked this hybrid that we have right now, where we do a lot of research very consistent with academic standards of research but at the same time, in terms of companies, actually being able to use the research to make a difference.



Mitch:

We’re glad that you are. So, you’re the president of an organization called Nextions, which has as its mission “bringing a new generation of thought leadership to inclusion.” What can you tell us about the organization and its mission?

Arin:

So, we are 20 years old this year, and when we started there was not a lot on diversity out there in the legal profession or just generally in the marketplace. And one of the first things I realized is that we couldn’t just have consultants out there consulting with firms and with organizations without research. We can’t give recommendations if we’re not actually testing the recommendations and experimenting with them, and being able to have data that kind of goes with it. So we constantly keep pushing the envelope on what can neurology teach us; what can psychology teach us; what can economics teach us; and we try to bring it all together. And we’ve researched things in a way that are easily applicable in workplaces and in other organizations.

Mitch:

So you’ve authored two bestselling books, which I think are incredibly relevant to the future of the law and profession. The first,Next IQ, focused on the power of collective versus individual intelligence. You wrote that book back in 2012, and it seems to me that topic is even more relevant today, in part because of the emphasis of AI and machine learning, and in part because of the broad innovation and the way that legal services are delivered today, and the benefits that we all get from collaboration and the convergence between areas of law. So, what are the most important takeaways from your work in terms of how we lead and work in teams?

Arin:

You are absolutely right. Collective intelligence becomes more and more important every day because not only are we reliant on each other more and more, we’re reliant on each other more and more globally; it’s not just across your workplace or across your region or across your country. And what we’re realizing is when you’re reliant on so many different people, you have to be open to information coming from places you might not expect it to – ideas coming from places that you might not think to look. And when we’re working in teams, the more we focus on ourselves and our expertise, the more we’re limiting our ability to see the whole problem, and the more we’re limiting our ability to understand all the different ways that it can be solved. And one of the places where you see this research is in crowdsourcing. It is this concept of collective intelligence. You know the old Japanese proverb, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” I think the book takes it one step further and says, “We can’t be as smart as we can be if we’re not really paying attention to what collective intelligence can teach us.” Right? You mentioned innovation, and I talk a lot about innovation in the book as well. There’s actually no difference neurologically between inclusive thinking and innovative thinking. It’s still about thinking differently than you thought yesterday. Right? And so innovation is about thinking differently, doing differently. So you have to ask yourself: If you limit yourself to just your perspective or perspectives that are just like your own, where are you going to get the idea to do it differently?

Mitch:

Is that why you think there is a lot of social research that suggests that diverse teams make better decisions?

Arin:

Absolutely, and the thing about the research is it’s a little complicated, right? Because diverse teams make better decisions as long as they have inclusive leadership. And that’s a critical component to it. If you put ten sales people in a room and make them each compete for the highest sales and the highest income from the sale, they’re going to take each other down. It doesn’t matter if the ten of them are similar or if the ten of them are different. But if you put ten sales people in a room and you say, “What you all do collectively is what’s going to determine your collective income at the end of the day,” that causes a reaction of needing to work together because they see the collective good at the end of a collective effort, and then the diverse perspectives makes a stronger team. So sometimes I think that when the research says “diverse perspectives make a stronger team,” it’s only if there is inclusive leadership.

Mitch:

That’s incredibly helpful and I think it’s a good segue to your second book,One Size Never Fits All,which I think you wrote back in 2014, which looks at women’s strengths and how professional services firms aren’t always set up to recognize and leverage those strengths. What can you tell us about that book and what should the takeaway be?

Arin:

One of the things that we looked at is that I had a lot of women in professional service firms across the country kind of challenge me to say, “You know, we’ve done a lot of work with getting women into senior associate positions, even into partnership, but when you look at compensation of women in professional service firms or you look at paths to leadership because of compensation, women are just not as much in the mix as men.” And when I started looking into it, what I realized is that in professional service firms, regardless of the industry, a big component of advancement and paths to power and paths to leadership is business development. And so people are told, “You need to get better at business development.” But what the book does is it digs into not just business development, but what kinds of business development are recognized and what kinds of business development are compensated and rewarded. And what we discovered is women actually have a much different business development style across the board, not to stereotype it, of course – women do it differently; men do it differently within those groups as well. But women really shined when there were collective business development opportunities. And one of the things that we discovered when we dug into some of these numbers is that women are phenomenal client keepers, but they may not always be the original originators. Right? So, if in firms where keeping a client or new business from a client got you the same level of credit as originating a client, we actually saw women compensated in equal numbers as men. But when a firm had a high focus on original origination, then women were not able to catch up and keep up. So, the last third of the book is strategies for firms on how to reconfigure some of these systems – again not to take away with working for men but to add additional things – where you can also then fully capitalize and leverage on women’s strengths as well.

Mitch:

Very interesting. Arin, you’ve also done an awful lot of work on the phenomenon of confirmation bias. Can you tell us a little about what that is and how we overcome it organizationally?

Arin:

Sure, and I think confirmation bias is generally that we see what we expect to see. And as a researcher, for example, I’m very vulnerable to them, right? If a hypothesis pops into my head and I look at a body of research, confirmation bias basically means I’m going to see the research that agrees with my hypothesis; and the research that doesn’t agree with my hypothesis, my brain just kind of looks over it. Like, it’s not worth it to look at that because it disagrees with me. So, one of the things about confirmation bias in organizations like law firms is that we have to start opening ourselves up to the fact that tomorrow may look different than yesterday. And if we’re used to looking at a certain type of person who is successful – whether it’s a certain type of personality, a certain alma mater, a certain skill set – and we say, “This is what success looks like,” then what confirmation bias does is it makes us always sees the success when it shows up like that and miss the success when it shows up differently. One of the studies that we did was really looking at how people evaluate written work, for example, and if you know the person’s race, you actually find more mistakes if you think it’s a person of color than if it is a person who is white. So sometimes it’s just stepping back and asking ourselves questions like “Why do I know what I know? Why do I think this person is successful? Why do I think this other person doesn’t have what it takes?” And it’s about asking ourselves questions individually, but then also organizationally setting up systems where questions about people are more critically asked and critically analyzed before decisions are made; I think that helps a lot. One thing that we’ve done in firms at the partnership selection level – we’ve experimented in a couple of firms – is instead of people just kind of just voting on someone based on a case that’s in front of them, we’ve actually assigned an advocate and a devil’s advocate, for example, and both sides are presented to the partnership before they take a vote. And what we’ve found is that it really neutralizes a lot of those dominant voices where someone says “This person has to make partner” and no one else says anything because no one wants to go against the dominant voice. So, you know – confirmation bias and sort of social approval in all of those different kind of biases that are there. Anytime you put in a way to critically question what you’re hearing and better understand what the information is telling you, you can diffuse the bias immediately.

Mitch:

Now you’ve turned to an entirely new subject for your latest book. Can you tell us about that?

Arin:

Sure, I do have to have a caveat here: the book is calledSmarter Than A Lieand it’s about how to understand why people lie in workplaces and how to get around lies and liars. A lot of people have asked me if it has anything to do with the current political climate, and that answer is no. I actually started researching this in 2014, right when I finishedOne Size Never Fits All, but the book is really about the fact that what’s interesting psychologically is the more power you have in an organization, the more likely you are to lie. Oftentimes, if you are underrepresented or if you feel like you are in a weaker situation and you happen to be working with someone or working for someone who’s lying about you or about your work, you do not have the option of raising your hand and saying, “Okay, I’m sorry – you’re a liar” because that’s not going to work well for your career. So, I interviewed a lot of people who talked about having to leave workplaces or being demoted or not getting promoted because of untrue things that were said about them, and the book is really about how do you understand lies; how do you depersonalize them? Because we get very frozen when we think people are lying about us. We get very upset. And then, most importantly, how we can sort of stay on our path of what we want to get – even if, you know, there’s a big old liar between us and what we want.



Mitch:

Very helpful, and it could not be a more timely topic. And speaking of timely, I’d like to ask your advice about a new initiative we have here at Orrick. As you may have seen, we recently announced our participation in something called the Move the Needle Fund. And that’s a collaborative effort between law firms and corporate legal departments to make meaningful progress on diversity—both within the five firms who are participating and the profession more broadly. And, as part of that effort, we’ve articulated a five-year goal to ensure that as we grow more diverse, we grow relationships with a set of our top 40 clients that are also reflecting that diversity. What advice do you have for our relationship partners for those 40 clients, in terms of how we approach and achieve that goal? How do you think we can be most successful based on all the research you’ve done?

Arin:

So, one interesting thing about building relationships, which isn’t talked about a lot in working and relationship building, is that when we try to build relationships because it’s good for us from a business perspective on either side or from a mutually beneficial perspective or anything else, the relationships don’t stick as much, and you really, really have to work very hard to maintain the relationships. One way to build relationships across diverse groups in a way that doesn’t take a lot of time and really sticks turns out to be when you do service projects together, which is a win-win-win-win-win. Right? And, we have done a couple of research studies where we take people who are really diverse in lots of different ways, not just racially/ethnically, but also just different hierarchies within an organization. And we have them network together or have dinner together, versus do a service project together, like serve soup in a homeless shelter or build a homeless habitat for humanity. There is something about getting out of your professional role, collectively turning toward someone who needs your assistance, and that you’re collectively assisting people who are less privileged than you, that seems to really create relationships that make the differences not feel as different. So when you’re investing a lot of money and time in the foundational sort of cornerstones that you want to build a relationship, finding ways to collaborate on service projects drives that effort further than dinners, networking events, going to entertainment functions together, etc. And the wonderful thing about it is you get to also help other people as part of this as well.

Mitch:

Arin, this incredibly helpful. Thank you so much for being our guest. Thank you for sharing all of your insights on your research, your books and the work that you’ve done at Nextions. We’re excited to see your book on liars and lying, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with you in the months and years ahead. Thanks again.

Arin:

Absolutely. Thank you for having me.