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How Law Firms Can Improve Diversity in the Legal Industry

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The legal industry is one of the least racially diverse professions in America. And even though more women than ever are graduating from law schools, men still dominate the legal practice in terms of pay and partner positions. When it comes to the law, the good old boys' club remains strong.

This isn't news. The legal industry has long struggled to address the lack of diversity in its ranks, with mixed results. Here are some ways those efforts can be improved.

Are Diversity Initiatives Working? Few People Know

For years, law firms have announced new, improved diversity initiatives, as a recent piece in the American Lawyer notes. BigLaw firms are adopting generous, gender-neutral parental leave policies. Clifford Chance is conducting blind interviews, in order to fight unconscious bias. Latham & Watkins will now pay to ship breast milk for employees who have to travel for work while they're nursing.

The results? Generally unknown. As Caren Ulrich Stacy, the founder of Diversity Lab, explains, after the initial announcement, there's almost never another word on how such programs play out. "Secondary announcements with any mention of progress are as scarce as white alligators," she writes. And without tracking the results of such initiatives, firms won't know whether their time, money, and good intentions are going to waste or not.

Ulrich has some advice for firms looking to take on a push for greater diversity:

The call to action for all organizations that roll out new diversity initiatives and policies is this: Set short- and long-term goals, internally measure your progress, and publicly report your findings on an ongoing basis. Your organization will benefit from the analysis and the continuous publicity. Reporting your diversity initiative successes and any stumbles-no matter how minor-will allow all of us as a collective and interconnected community across a wide array of industries and geographies to benefit from a robust knowledge exchange.

Putting Your Money Where Your Press Release Is

Simon Robinson, President of Major Lindsey & Africa, has some further advice for firms looking to improve diversity: pay up. Once a firm has communicated the importance of diversity, it needs to make sure it's providing resources need to meet its diversity goals, he writes in Bloomberg's Big Law Business. That means setting aside a budget for networking events, conferences, affinity groups, and other activities that can help you meet and retain diverse candidates. "Without a line item in the budget," Robinson says, "it is unlikely that diversity initiatives will receive the spending that they deserve."

Money and measurement alone won't be enough, though. Lawyers who want to improve legal diversity need to establish a diverse network. That means reaching out to law schools with diverse student bodies, interacting with minority legal groups and professional associations, becoming a mentor to underrepresented lawyers, and, most importantly, creating a climate where attorneys of all backgrounds are given the opportunity to thrive.

Have an open position at your law firm? Post the job for free on Indeed, or search local candidate resumes.

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