6 Ways to Improve Law Practice Diversity
By Wim Dodson
According to the 2017 Vault/MCCA (Minority Corporate Counsel Association) Law Firm Diversity Survey, minority lawyers represent 16 percent of law firm associates, partners and counsel — the highest figure during the 10 years since the organizations began publishing the survey. Still, even though one in four law firm associates is a person of color, more than 90 percent of equity partners are white.
In 2016, 36 percent of partners promoted were women, compared to 30 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, a fifth of equity partners and lawyers serving on law firm executive or management committees are women. Non-white women represent 13 percent of associates but less than 3 percent of equity partners.
However, the report cites that attrition among minority attorneys is higher now than it was during the Great Recession. In 2016, 22 percent of all attorneys and 27 percent of associates who left their firms were minorities. Both figures exceed those reported in any of the previous 10 years.
The Washington Post reported that biases and a lack of support among majority-associates and -partners are major reasons for minority and women lawyers leaving firms. Law as one of the least diverse sectors in the United States can certainly make a firm commitment and operational choices to increase diversity among their ranks.
Concrete actions law practices can take include:
Form teams lead by partners and influencers in the practice to attend inclusiveness, recruitment, retention and cultural proficiency issues.
Have a specified set of values and principles and demonstrate behaviors, mindsets, policies and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.
The leadership team must put in place a diversity and inclusiveness framework to evaluate the general culture, work relationships, promotion and retention practices.
Place greater emphasis on retention practices than on recruitment. Make the environment one that diversity candidates want to stay with. Reduce the image of the practice having a revolving door for diversity professionals. The workplace must be one that diversity candidates clamor to join.
Firms must understand that developing an inclusive and varied work environment is an exercise in continuous improvement. There is no “fixing” the problem, like a plumber repairs a leaky pipe.
Staff at large need to have channels of their own through which to check out existing views and misconceptions around problems of diversity and inclusiveness.
Lawyers by and large are smart people, problem-solvers par excellence. The lack of diversity and inclusion in the legal sector is not an insoluble problem. Other professional service areas have already proven that. After all, eighty-eight percent of lawyers are white, according to The Washington Post, while 81 percent of architects and engineers are white; 78 percent of accountants are white; and 72 percent of physicians and surgeons are white.
Much of the solution to creating more diverse environments in law comes down to having the will to do so. A more diverse client base and changing American demographic may just be enough to elevate those legal minds to greater, brighter heights.