BUILDING DIVERSITY: The Importance and Benefits of Diversity in Today’s Legal Environment

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Introduction

A lot of attention is focused on diversity in the workplace, especially in law firms and legal departments. While diversity is a hot topic today, it certainly isn’t a new focus. It has been four years since the American Bar Association (ABA) passed Resolution 113, “Promoting Diversity in the Legal Profession.” And as far back as 2008, the Illinois Bar Association posted an article about why diversity matters, with quotes from their minority committees on the subject including:

“When a client has a legal issue to solve, the client must feel confident that his or her voice will be heard, no matter his background, gender, color or faith. If the client can see diversity in the legal profession, the client will feel more confident that he has received a fair resolution of his legal issue.”1

“Diversity matters because it leads to the creation of better problem-solving models …”

If attorneys recognized how important diversity was more than 10 years ago, then why does diversity still need to be such a focus? Because, despite efforts by legal organizations and corporations, not much has changed statistically.

Over the past decade, there have been ABA resolutions introduced, corporate requirements set for working with diverse law firms, and new goals to promote diversity in legal departments—yet there’s still a struggle to exemplify a diverse legal landscape. This struggle is even more surprising because according to several studies, having a diverse firm is better for business.

Promoting diversity in the legal workplace has its challenges, but there are also measures to help overcome these challenges and to monitor diversity progress in legal departments and law firms.

 


 

Defining and Measuring Diversity

Before a legal department can begin measuring diversity, first it must define what diversity means within its own legal environment. For example, in a department with 80% female attorneys, bringing on more male attorneys would qualify as becoming more diverse. This makes defining diversity in the overall legal landscape challenging, because law firms and in-house legal departments will have varying definitions of diversity.

Measuring diversity in the legal profession also presents challenges. Results can vary depending on how the population being measured is defined: diverse attorneys who are licensed, diverse attorneys who are licensed and still practicing, etc. Further considering geographical location and the type of law each of those groups practices significantly affects diversity measurements.

Using the right vendor management software makes it possible to easily run diversity reports with multiple variables and with high accuracy. For example, a department or firm may want to find out its inclusion percentage of women; running a report could show the department is reaching 24% diversity in that area. Then, if a second variable is added, such as “African American,” it may reveal that only 5% of the population is both African American and female. An increasing number of companies are setting requirements to ensure they are working with diverse firms. This shows how important it is to have the capability to easily access diversity results to ensure outside counsel meets those standards.

According to Jenita J. Gillespie, Director of Legal Operations for Bon Secours Mercy Health, Inc., “Getting a baseline to understand and compare diversity numbers in today’s environment is challenging. The more you drill down, the more your results are going to change. So, it’s really important to have the right technology that can help legal departments get accurate diversity numbers.

 


 

Building a Culture of Diversity

To help change legal culture, organizations are beginning to nurture up-and-coming legal talent. Corporations are helping build diversity in the legal world by offering internships, externships, and class credit. Some legal departments formally bring recognition to law firms that meet specific diversity standards.

Bon Secours Mercy Health is leading this charge. Per Gillespie, “We are in the process of starting an internship program with different law schools to recruit underrepresented candidates. And while we can’t hire every intern, we are still giving future graduates a foundation and making those students a resource for firms and in-house legal departments once they finish school.”

Working with a variety of schools is also important to help expand diversity within the legal realm. Simply recruiting minority students from a top-tier school, such as Harvard, will not provide a fully diverse background. Because socioeconomics plays a role in diversity and having access to diverse opinions, it’s essential to recruit from the middle-tier schools as well.

Increasingly in today’s business settings, corporations are demanding that their outside counsel embrace a more diverse culture. One law firm saw their requests for demographic data more than triple from 2016 – 2017.2 Corporations such as AT&T, Bank of America, Microsoft, and Hewlett Packard all inquire about demographic data from their law firms. According to the American Bar Association Journal, Microsoft offers a bonus to firms that increase diversity, while Hewlett Packard withholds a percentage of their invoices if firms do not meet its diversity requirements.

In order to help build a culture of diversity within law firms, the Diversity Lab launched the Mansfield Rule to boost diversity in leadership. According to their website, “Now in its third iteration, the Mansfield Rule Certification measures whether law firms have affirmatively considered at least 30% women, attorneys of color, LGBTQ+, and lawyers with disabilities for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, formal client pitch opportunities, and senior lateral positions.” This certification is another tool to help corporations identify firms that actively support cultivating diversity.

Nurturing diverse talent means much more than managing to demographic statistics. Gillespie recalled, “I was at a conference and an African American gentleman was talking about the vendors who sell technology solutions to his legal department. He questioned why none of the vendors at the conference were diverse and did I have an issue with it. I explained that yes there is an issue with the vendors not being diverse; however, I commented that I didn’t want to buy something from somebody just because he or she looks the same or because she is the same gender. I wanted to buy from the person with the most knowledge.”

“That’s why it’s important for graduating attorneys who come from diverse backgrounds to have the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to succeed in the role,” Gillespie continued. “So, they are both diverse and the best person for the job. It won’t just be about race or gender; it will be what those attorneys can offer based on their backgrounds and skills.

 


 

Benefiting from Diversity

At its core, having a diverse law firm or legal department means a more successful business. According to Navan Ward, Parliamentarian at the American Association for Justice, “A more diverse group of attorneys can better connect with and relate to diverse clients, witnesses, and juries—and this has led to a higher level of success.” He also states that “using a diverse group of attorneys gives firms the best advantage in representing clients, handling certain types of witnesses, and trying cases in front of different juries because you have a deep bench to work with.”3

Navan’s statements are backed by the Harvard Business Review, which reported, “… when at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end-user, the entire team better understands that user. A team member who shares a client’s ethnicity is 152% likelier than another team to understand that client.”4 Understanding and better connecting with clients means that firms can attract more clients from different cultures and countries resulting in handling more cases and the potential for more profits.5

 


 

Ongoing Vigilance

Corporate law departments are in a unique position to ask for, support, and encourage diversity in the law firms they work with.6 Those that are proactively working to advance diversity are employing these and other techniques:

  • Survey outside counsel regarding diversity demographics
  • Set minimum standards for the in-house legal team to promote working in a diverse environment
  • Track outside counsel hours worked by diverse timekeepers
  • Keep it front and center—include results of diversity trends of your outside counsel in management reports
  • Communicate with outside counsel on how diverse legal professionals must be given opportunities to develop high-end skills and assigned to challenging, mission-critical legal tasks
  • “Get involved with your local minority bar associations: sponsor an event or mentor minority law students,” as suggested by americanbar.org7

Many of these techniques are supported by a robust vendor management solution, such as CounselLink. CounselLink provides Vendor Management solutions that enable legal departments to objectively and consistently measure your law firm performance that includes quantifiable diversity metrics.

 


 

About CounselLink

LexisNexis® CounselLink® is the leading cloud-based enterprise legal management solution designed to help corporate legal departments gain 100% visibility into their work, matters, and invoices. CounselLink delivers Work Management, Financial Management, and Vendor Management solutions in one easy-to-use platform to help you control costs, maximize productivity, and make better decisions. Gain access to meaningful data around the work your legal team does so you can demonstrate the value your department brings to the table. For nearly 30 years, LexisNexis has been providing innovative solutions for corporate legal departments, and we craft these solutions based on insights from thought leaders, industry expertise, and customer feedback.

 


 

Sources:

1 Why Diversity Matters…. (2008). Retrieved from https://www.isba.org/committees/diversityleadershipcouncil/newsletter/2008/06/
whydiversitymatters

2 Rozen, Miriam. As Clients Get Tougher on Diversity, Some Firms See a Selling Point. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/almID/1202794457489/?code=1202617075486&curindex=0&curpage=ALL/&slreturn=20200209105512

3 Halloran, Kate. Q&A with Navan Ward: Diversity in the Workplace. (May 2017). Retrieved from https://www.justice.org/what-we-do/enhancepractice-law/publications/trial-magazine/qa-diversity-workplace-hiring-minority

4 Hewlett, Sylvia Ann; et al. How Diversity Can Drive Innovation. (December 2013). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-candrive-innovation

5 Cesario, Angelica. The Benefits of Diversity in the Legal Profession. (February 26, 2019). Retrieved from https://blog.lawline.com/the-benefits-ofdiversity-in-the-legal-profession

6 Ruderman, Dan. How to Implement a Diversity Program in the Legal Department. (October 9, 2017). Retrieved from http://businessoflawblog.com/2017/10/how-to-implement-a-diversity-program-in-the-legal-department/

7 Laffey, Allison E. and Allison Ng. Diversity and Inclusion in the Law: Challenges and Initiatives. (May 02, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/jiop/articles/2018/diversity-and-inclusion-in-the-law-challenges-and-initiatives/