Katherine A. Roberts is the co-chair of Sidley’s Labor, Employment and Immigration group and a partner in Sidley’s Los Angeles office. She also serves on the firm’s COVID-19 Task Force. Kate’s experience extends to all aspects of employment litigation, counseling, and labor relations. Kate serves as chair for the greater Los Angeles Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women. She also is former Diversity and Inclusion Committee chair of Sidley’s greater Los Angeles offices and remains an active member of the committee.
“I’m a labor and employment lawyer, so the majority of my legal work is focused on people and how they work together. Putting together a team that can draw from different backgrounds, life experiences, languages, and perspectives is so important when you’re trying to deal with issues that often stem from interpersonal relationships.”
You serve as the chair for Sidley’s Committee for the Retention and Promotion of Women (CRPW) and are the former co-chair of the Los Angeles offices’ Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee. How have those role allowed you to shape and support the professional advancement of LGBTQ+ lawyers at Sidley?
One of the things I feel very strongly about is making sure all of our attorneys and staff feel that they have a home and a voice at the firm. Both the CRPW and D&I chairs conduct regular “listening tours” with all of the women and diverse associates — and the diverse women associates — in the Los Angeles and Century City offices. These serve as informal check-ins to catch up either individually or in small groups so our attorneys have a chance to discuss things on their mind. We pay close attention to issues of workflow, advancement opportunities, client contact, and business development to make sure our associates are getting the type of work and opportunities they would like and that will benefit them in their career trajectory. If someone tells me “I’d really like to get more deposition experience” or “I’d really like to work on this deal with XYZ partner,” then I try to help make that happen. One of the resources that I can provide is access to my internal network at the firm. My practice is very broad-based, and I end up interacting a lot with partners in different offices and practice areas — litigation, corporate, restructuring, healthcare, even real estate. So while some associates are perfectly comfortable taking a very active role in seeking out connections and opportunities, others might appreciate a bit of support from someone they know to make an introduction or an initial inquiry. I try to do the same for a number of informal LGBTQ+ associate mentees I have in different offices around the firm. We have quarterly firmwide videoconferences with the LGBTQ+ attorneys, and back when I could travel pre-COVID, I would try to take note if there were people in offices where I knew I was headed, so we could do a quick in-person hello when I was there. Same thing if I saw someone was coming to LA. Even a quick five-minute conversation can establish a personal connection and may make someone less hesitant about picking up the phone and asking for something or encouraging others to do the same.
Are you aware of an increasing interest from clients as to Sidley’s commitment to creating a diverse workplace?
Absolutely. Clients know that diverse legal teams produce better work. I’m a labor and employment lawyer, so the majority of my legal work is focused on people and how they work together. Putting together a team that can draw from different backgrounds, life experiences, languages, and perspectives is so important when you’re trying to deal with issues that often stem from interpersonal relationships. In my experience, clients are savvy, and firms that show up for pitches time and again with a team of lawyers that lack women, BIPOC attorneys, LGBTQ+ attorneys — or worse yet, include them on pitches but don’t actually have them to do the work — are not going to last very long. Further, they want to see that Sidley is doing internally what we are encouraging them to do in their own workplaces.