In Conversation, Women Shaping the Future of Legal: Irene Fiorentinos and Amanda Jones

March 14, 2024



Amanda Jones
Amanda Jones
Irene Fiorentinos, Of Counsel, Jones Day

As part of our new series, In Conversation, Women Shaping the Future of Legal, leading women in the legal industry discuss how diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts can help improve work and the world. By sharing personal stories, tested strategies, and new ideas, these dynamic conversations offer advice to individuals and organizations and help evolve the legal space for the future. To learn more about all of our interviews, we recently wrote about how inclusion is fostering innovation and changing the future of legal.

Irene Fiorentinos, Of Counsel at Jones Day, was joined by Amanda Jones, Director of Search and Information Retrieval at Lighthouse, for a conversation to explore these issues. The transcript below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Amanda Jones, Director of Search and Information Retrieval, Lighthouse

Amanda Jones: Irene, I think a lot of people have a different interpretation of what exactly inclusion means and why they feel like it's important. So, what is yours? What does inclusion mean to you?

Irene Fiorentinos: To me, inclusion is in some ways the next step after diversity and equity. We created diverse teams or organizations, we tried to be equitable in how we treat people—but we can't just stop there. It doesn't happen by accident. Inclusion has to be intentional and focused. People need to understand what it is that they're trying achieve through their various teams. So, inclusion, to me, is a step beyond diversity.

Yes, that makes a lot of sense. It’s a concept, but not by the numbers. That is the connection. It’s the human element of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s really interesting that you think of it that way because it definitely resonates with me too—there's that extension. It's not enough to be diverse or just equal. It’s that inclusion element, the act of making space for another person, accepting them, and valuing their views.

How do you think that plays out in the workplace?

I think in the workplace we all start with the assumption that our organizations have hired competent people. Everybody knows how to do the basics. The point of being focused on inclusion is to see whether people who not only know how to do the basics, but maybe are particularly talented, creative, or helpful in some ways that's not necessarily the norm, are actually getting the opportunity to carry that out.

Our service providers are starting from that same assumption—by the time they’re interfacing with me, they’re very competent people. But that's not enough. People can definitely get lost in the shuffle. Or people may have better thoughts about how to do things and they're not being heard. We can all do many things. The question is, how are we going to do things just a little bit better?

Especially when we're talking about providers of technology and litigation support. In many ways, my ability to carry out a huge percentage of my work every day depends on Lighthouse folks coming up with the best way to do it and then carrying that out. I cannot do this by myself. In the same way that I cannot practice law by myself sitting in my office. There has to be a team. And to me, it's important that we make it possible for that team to have a variety of experiences and a diversity of knowledge, as well as the ability to carry it out. It cannot be that only one person talks or only one person comes up with ideas based on their role because they happen to be the project manager. And I don't care where they come up with ideas as long as I know that everybody’s been given the opportunity to hear my problems and solve them.

Yes, I completely agree, and think that that's where the value comes from. Yes, you have excellent people across the board. But what diversity, equity, and inclusion brings to the picture is many different perspectives. And the more perspectives you have on a problem, the better and more clearly you can see it and solve it. That's why it's so essential, positive, and valuable across the board, especially in a workplace where you have complex problems to solve. You need that additional perspective to get creative and to be really efficient in solving things.

How do you think an organization should go about fostering that, and really encouraging and cultivating it?

I think part of it is elementary. You need to ask your people what they need so they can perform at the best capacity. I practiced law for a really long time before the pandemic and then I practiced law full force during the pandemic. I learned quite a bit from that process. I learned that we all have different things that cause extra burdens on us as we go through our workdays. One of the things that was beneficial was, all of a sudden, it became okay to talk about how your kid needed you, and your dog needed you, and your partner needed you, or your elderly parent needed you. Because everybody was sitting in one spot and we were all locked down—through technology you had a whole bunch of other people sitting on the other end of the camera who were in the exact same situation. It really educated all of us.

It really level set all of us. We could be sitting in corner offices or we could be sitting in dark warehouses—but at the end of the day, we were all facing something and we all had to figure out how we were going to continue our work in a setting that was not the norm.

I'm not saying that it was great that we went through the pandemic, of course...

Right, but it was humanizing.

It's humanizing. Plus, it was very educational. It was very interesting to see that, indeed, we could function. Maybe not as well as if we were all sitting in the same place, but the reality is most of us are working on [Microsoft] Teams where we're not all sitting in the same place.

I think that's part of inclusion. It's making sure that people have the support to carry on their lives, and also to be focused on the work. And how do you accommodate that? We can’t be focused 24/7. That’s not how life works.

I think the other way is to say out loud: I want this woman and this woman to be involved in the process. It's good that we have the numbers of diversity, but if we don't leverage those numbers, then we haven't really achieved diversity. And to say “everybody's equal” well, that's a great starting point, but that's not the endpoint. That can only get us so far.

I think what the inclusion part says is: It is valuable to hear many different viewpoints and I am going to find the mechanisms to make the viewpoints be heard—even if it has to be very structured.

I like that a lot. It sounds like you extended this idea of inclusivity. It has this element of intention, but it also has this element of being explicit. To intentionally and explicitly ask how you can make someone feel included, what they need, and how you can accommodate people who are bringing different perspectives and backgrounds to the table.

What about the things that are more subtle? How do we go about challenging these stereotypes or even unconscious biases that often hinder women and other minorities in the workplace?

I think it's important to have things like a women’s week or women's month. I have been practicing for a really long time, and when I first started practicing, I don’t want to say I was the “one and only,” but I was clearly one of a few. Whether it was in the courtroom, deposition, meeting, or office, I was one of a few. And now I'm no longer one of a few. I am one of many. But I think it's still important to say out loud, “Look at us.”

I was in a particularly large call one day and we realized that it was only women lawyers. I said, “Now, I'm going to pause. I don't want to sound like your mother, but I want you all to look around and realize that it's only women lawyers on this call.” And why does that matter? That matters because we're in a setting that already has done the diversity part, done that equity part, and now here we are—at all different levels of seniority doing what we have to do to get the best answers and the best solutions.

I do believe that if you have spent a long time at your job and have become senior and successful within your organization, it means that you really worked really hard in every aspect of your life. It did not happen by chance. I think it's important to say to those that have gotten to a senior level, and those that are trying to get to a senior level, “Look, it works, it happens.”

I think part of it is just to recognize that out loud. To call it out, intentionally and explicitly, and not be shy about saying, “Good for us.”

You can do so much to make that safe space that helps lift people up, but you also have to ask them to come to the table and speak for themselves too, and make it safe to do so, right?

And to do so within the realities of the industries we’re in. We’re both in a service industry, right? The value that we bring to the table is to be available to carry out whatever it is we have been hired to do. And the service industry adds an inherent burden to your life because those who need the service do not nicely need the service between the hours of 9:00 and 5:00, Monday through Friday. That's not going to work. And when things go badly, it's not between 9:00 and 5:00, Monday through Friday. I think the service needs are really hard and we all have to recognize that.

When a mutual client needs something, all of us have to figure out how to make it happen. And for a lot of the work that involves litigation, the ask is not always very simple and routine. And if there is an issue, it's not because the routine fell apart. It's because something has popped up that nobody expected. Something happens and everybody has to step up. I think that's where having created a setting where you can hear everyone's voice helps because it makes sure you have a strong team that can handle those unexpected issues. It's in everybody's interest to make our workplaces as stable, supportive, and diverse as possible. Because that’s how we all end up carrying out good work for our clients.

Too true. The value—and a huge part of why diversity helps organizations run better—is that one person can step in if another person needs to step back and fill a gap. Having a diverse group of people on a team helps us all be more adaptive. And an inclusive environment is one that recognizes and acknowledges that different people have not only different perspectives, but also different burdens in their lives that are going to demand their time. And therefore, if you create these teams that have sufficient diversity and are inclusive and supportive, then you can flex when your client comes along with a special request that's outside the norm.

Let's talk for a minute about the next generation and how we go about inspiring women who are younger than us to carry the torch and to break through barriers that we might not even see at this point in our lives. How do we do that?

So I will just disclose I have a teenage daughter.

Ah, that's helps, right?

I’m quite sensitive to their perception of the world. If they have an interest in breaking into a setting where there are not a lot of other young women, I think we have to acknowledge it and say, “Good for you for doing it.” And to acknowledge that is an extra step that teenagers, who already have to handle all the angst in the universe, have to take. My daughter is in robotics. And when you look at the robotics competitions, the number of girls compared to boys is very skewed. And you have to say good for those young women for going out there. They understand computers just as much as the boys do, there's no doubt. Good for them for not being shy about it.

Every time this generation has opportunities to break through a barrier or branch out into areas where there aren’t a lot of other young women, we need to support it. We need to ask them what they need, and then we need to provide as much as we can to make it workable for them. The other way we do it is to have them see women role models. I'm a huge believer that you have to see a role model. You have to be a role model.

To go back to my own experience, my daughter grew up in a setting where of course she knew women could be lawyers. And her girlfriends also knew that women could be lawyers because they either had moms who were lawyers, or they interacted with our family. Being a woman lawyer was not something that was shocking for this generation. Thank God. It was more the norm.

What they then have to figure out is: How did we make that happen when it was not the norm? And how does that translate into whatever they want for their own lives?

Half the law firm population is now female so we must have done something right. I think part of it is, we can inspire them by showing that it happens.

I think in the technology field, in some ways, it's exactly that. If this is something that's interesting to you, let's figure out how we can give you all the skills and training so you can do it and be good at it.

You may be one of the few in the field right now, but good for you. You're doing it.

It’s like a challenge. You don't think this can be done? Just watch me. I will do it.

I think this generation, at least in my interactions with our more junior associates, is very much into learning how you did it. They're not hesitant to say, “Tell me what you did that worked.” My generation was more hesitant and thought, “I better figure this out on my own.”

Yes, “show no weakness.” You can't ask someone how they did something, because it's weak, right? Those in the younger generation aren't afraid to ask, and it's so great to see it.

Right. Because we had the fear that if we asked, people would assume that we don’t know how to do it—or worse, that we don’t want to do it. But I think this generation definitely asks. And I think that definitely helps them move their careers to the next level.

And the reality is we can inspire them to do that because there are so many of us now. If you were starting in a field and the role models were only one type, you may not think you could ever do it.

Yeah, but normalizing women as role models in more fields is wonderful. I just realize how affirming that is and it’s a great feeling to see that this is happening; we are getting there. Thank you so much for talking. It’s been a really uplifting conversation.

About the Author

Amanda Jones

Amanda is a Director in Lighthouse's Research, Modeling, and Analysis group. She supervises the development of new processes and offerings for eDiscovery, designing and implementing innovative linguistic and statistical approaches to document classification. Amanda has over 15 years of experience applying advanced strategies and tactics to complex litigation-related information retrieval projects. She has collaborated extensively with corporate legal departments and outside counsel to formulate and validate defensible document review protocols. Before joining the company, she oversaw Technology Assisted Review and Search Consulting at Xerox Litigation Services. Her work has been published in Forbes, National Law Review, Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, and the proceedings of the fourth, fifth, and sixth Discovery of Electronically Stored Information workshops held in conjunction with the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence & Law. Amanda holds a B.A. in linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in linguistics from the University of California, Los Angeles.