My interest in human groups underlies my fascination with why some attorneys get the best jobs and others don’t. In legal recruiting, I determine an attorney’s traits and characteristics and try to match them up with firms that will benefit from that individual’s unique strengths and abilities. I believe everyone has something to contribute if given a chance.
Yet, sometimes, no matter how loudly we sing the praises of a particular candidate, firms resist hiring that person. I wanted to know why. It seems legal hiring falls back on entrenched patterns, and those patterns are based on current business realities, which in turn are shaped by societal beliefs and values, which ultimately are influenced by the powerholders in society.
A diversity gap exists in law firms. What firms say about supporting diversity differs from what they do about diversity in practice. Yet, simply making observations about the diversity gap stirs controversy and inflames people on all sides. There are specific reasons people get so upset when we try to talk about racism, sexism, and other perceived unfair employment practices just as there are reasons why firms resist diversity efforts. I believe there is a way to reconcile the current realities of the legal business climate with diversity goals so that all attorneys can find jobs and law firms can realize the benefits of a diverse workforce.
Chapter 4: The Pro-Diversity Position
According to the Washington Post, diversity is good for business and good for the world: companies that emphasize diversity are worth more, earn higher returns, and have better financial outcomes; scientific research conducted by diverse teams is higher quality; and academic papers written by diverse group authors have higher impact and make greater contributions to science.
In their 2017 Business Performance Benchmark Study, Altify—the self-proclaimed “global leader in sales transformation”—found that diversity pays off: “70 percent of respondents believe that a diversity policy has impact on the business performance of their organization, and the results suggest that they are right. Companies with a positive track record in diversity have 50 percent better customer retention and 17 percent shorter sales cycles.”
Diversity is one of the most popular and important issues in the current legal environment. You can scarcely pick up a legal periodical without seeing numerous articles related to diversity. When I go out and meet with law firms to discuss their hiring needs, just about every firm launches into a long discussion about how interested they are in diversity and how important it is to them.
I could be sitting in west Texas with a couple of white, overweight partners wearing cowboy hats, leather suit jackets, and hypnotic, shiny belt buckles and one will tell me: “Get me some diversity in here!” and another attorney will slam his hand on the table and exclaim “Yes, siree!”
It does not matter who you talk to. The demand for diversity is the same in rural Alabama as it is in New York City. Diversity is something that law firms take seriously and want more of.
It seems like diversity and inclusion managers and committees have popped up all over the place and are now part of the infrastructure of big law firms. These people understand the diversity gap in law firms and go to work each day to combat it. They may not have solved the problem yet, but they are working hard on it.
And for good reason.
Many corporate clients survey prospective law firms asking about the type of diversity program the firms have in place. These large companies, which are usually represented by in-house counsel, want to know how many women and minorities work in a firm that would represent them. If a company believes a law firm is diverse, the firm stands a better chance of getting hired. If the law firm is not diverse, it might not only lose out on a new client but also lose some of its existing clients.
Diversity in the law firm setting typically means differences in race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. It is often measured at the associate and partner levels. Diversity in this context does not refer to age differences or diversity within the staff ranks—people only seem concerned with diversity when it comes to attorneys.
There are two classes of arguments for diversity:
- The social arguments for diversity focus on the fairness of diversity and that having more diversity can promote fairness and redress past discrimination. These arguments also focus on the fact that the employee population in businesses should reflect the composition of the overall population.
- The business arguments for diversity focus on the business sense of diversity and the idea that having more diversity increases the amount of business firms are qualified for, assists with recruiting, increases the amount of business that law firms get, and assists law firms in reaching better business decisions.
The Social Arguments for Diversity
Diversity is the right thing to do. Many tenets of moral behavior support this assertion.
Diversity is beneficial from a moral perspective. Originally, in the U.S. Constitution, “we the people” did not refer to Native Americans, white women, and certainly not African Americans. Many people believe the negative aspects and legacies of American history need to be redressed. Although white males in power have extended equality to women, black people, LGBTQ people, and other people of color, vestiges of past wrongs linger. Many proponents of diversity believe we should be leveling the playing field to redress past acts of discrimination. For hundreds of years, many groups were denied employment in corporations, law firms, and other establishments. The United States has a legacy of racial, economic, political, and social division.
During what is called the “golden age” of law firms, in the 1950s and 1960s, the top law firms screened applicants on the basis of their race, religion, gender, and socioeconomic background. One 1964 book, Wall Street Lawyer, noted, “They want lawyers who are Nordic, have pleasing personalities and ‘clean-cut’ appearances, are graduates of the ‘right’ schools, have the ‘right’ social background and experience in the affairs of the world, and are endowed with tremendous stamina.”
There is little doubt that law firms were formerly institutions that excluded women and minorities. The moral argument for including them now is that law firms should make up for past wrongs.
Diversity improves the morale of staff and attorneys in a firm. If an attorney looks around and sees a lot of diversity in the firm, that attorney can believe that the firm represents the public at large, and this improves how the attorney feels. Attorneys who are diverse want to see other diverse attorneys in their firms. Having a highly diverse staff working with diverse attorneys also is likely to improve morale because the cultural divide between attorneys and staff is diminished.
High morale leads to employee job satisfaction, which in turn motivates employees to put in more effort, become creative, take initiative, be “committed to the organization,” and focus “on achieving organizational goals rather than personal goals.” According to one journal:
The argument is that the overall morale of the organization will increase and improve the more diversity that there is. Increased morale will make an employee happier and more productive, and higher productivity will lead to higher performance and increased customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is important because it enhances customer retention and ultimately leads to profitability in a company.
Additionally, on the wish list of many associates is the opportunity to “identify with the compassionate values of the firm as demonstrated by pro bono commitments, training programs, employee diversity, reasonable billable hours, and part time and family leave policies.” Thus, a law firm with employee diversity fulfills one of the wishes that increases associate satisfaction and thus improves morale.
Diversity promotes proportional representation of diverse attorneys. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2016, approximately 24 percent of Americans were people of color, and by 2044, it is projected that the majority of the U.S. population will be people of color. However, despite these numbers, only 15.3 percent of associates are attorneys of color, and only 8.8 percent of partners are attorneys of color inside major law firms. Many argue that law firms should include the same percentage of minority attorneys as there are minority attorneys in the population.
Major law firms have largely utilized the same basic business model for over fifty years, which initially explicitly discriminated against certain demographic groups (including attorneys of color) in favor of white attorneys. This overt practice began to wane in the 1970s. By 1980, 3.6 percent of associates were of a minority group, and by 1990, 6.5 percent of associates were of a minority group. In a 2016 report, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) stated that minorities made up 22 percent of associates at law firms. However, despite the appearance of a sharp increase, because the percentage of Americans who are not white is 39.7 percent, a large discrepancy in representation in law firms as compared to in society continues.
The attorney labor pool is becoming far more diverse than it was when many partners graduated from law school. The percentage of diverse attorneys graduating from law schools is increasing. The number of minority students attending law school has more than tripled since the 1970s; however, at many top schools, such as Harvard and Columbia, the percentage of minority students is still below 9 percent. Given this, it makes sense that individuals who seek law firm services would rather see a firm-wide representation similar to what they see in their town or city as a whole. People want to see a variety of races and genders representative of their own lives.
Law firms do not yet approach the demographic outlook of the country. “A diverse law firm is a better reflection of the general population, which in turn helps make the firm more relatable to the public as an agent of the client. Working with relatable attorneys and staff could be the difference between winning and losing a case.” Diversification of staff may lead to greater capability in areas of outreach, networking, and client retention.
Diversity helps rectify imbalances resulting from admissions policies in law schools. Countless barriers make it more difficult for people of color to succeed in the legal field. One is gaining admission to top law schools. Yet the selectivity of top-tier law schools does not preclude the fact that attorneys who attended lower-ranked law schools can and will succeed in the legal profession. Law firms can help remedy imbalances in law school admissions by hiring more diverse attorneys from lesser-ranked law schools. “If law firms care too much about recruiting at only the top 20 schools, they miss some highly qualified and exceptional candidates at the other 160 American Bar Association–accredited law schools.”
Diversity alleviates institutional problems related to retention of women and minorities. Many argue that institutional problems make it difficult for women and minorities to succeed once they are hired at law firms. These problems stem mostly from preconceptions and negative stereotypes about diverse attorneys and their ability and loyalty. Acting on these preconceptions results in treatment of diverse attorneys that decreases their chances of staying long term, which reinforces the negative stereotypes about them and perpetuates an environment that seems unwelcoming to diverse attorneys. Hiring more diverse attorneys provides firms the opportunity to remove institutional barriers to their success.
The Business Arguments for Diversity
Many factors add up to the fact that diversity helps law firms improve their bottom line.
Large Clients Demand Diversity
Numerous large clients have made it a point to require the firms they work with diversify their staff. The last thing a law firm needs is to appear biased to large corporate clients that strive for equal company representation among their employees or wealthy individuals for whom diversity holds overwhelming social implications.
The “Diversity in the Workplace Statement of Principle,” BellSouth-led project to encourage and support diversity in the workplace developed in the fall of 1998, established an expectation that law firms that represent large companies will promote diversity in-house. The Statement of Principle articulates the following: “We expect the law firms which represent our companies to work actively to promote diversity within their work-place. In making our respective decisions concerning selection of outside counsel, we will give significant weight to a firm’s commitment and progress in the area.”
In 2016, the chief legal officers at twenty-four Fortune 1000 companies emailed a letter to their in-house colleagues at other Fortune 1000 companies asking them to support ABA Resolution 113, which “urges all providers of legal services, including law firms and corporations, to expand and create opportunities at all levels of responsibility for diverse attorneys and urges clients to assist in the facilitation of opportunities for diverse attorneys, and to direct a greater percentage of the legal services they purchase, both currently and in the future, to diverse attorneys.”
According to Diversity Lab, which creates and experiments with innovative ways to close the gender gap and boost diversity in law firms, some of the nation’s top law firm clients such as Facebook, AT&T, Bank of America, and NBC Universal have made diversity requirements mandatory for any and all outside vendors these companies deal business with, including law firms.
Facebook, for instance, requires that any outside counsel have no less than 33 percent women and ethnic minorities on staff. Bristol-Myers Squibb established a year-long mentoring program between legal department lawyers and diverse lawyers from four of the company’s outside law firms. When a firm attorney completes the mentorship, that attorney is provided with executive coaching and guaranteed work on at least one Bristol-Myers Squibb legal issue during the year.
Other large American companies have demanded their outside counsel become more diverse:
Coca-Cola: Beginning in 2007, the Coca-Cola Legal Division has bestowed the Living the Values Award on the law firm that best demonstrates its commitment to diversity with creative and innovative solutions that advance company goals. Solutions may include strides in hiring, retention, and promotion of diverse lawyers, initiatives that add value to internal efforts, creative partnering arrangements with minority- and women-owned firms, and pipeline/community outreach initiatives.
Engage Excellence: The legal departments of DuPont, General Mills, Verizon, and Walmart cofounded this program in 2014 in which a portion of their legal spending is afforded to hire ethnically diverse or LGBT lawyers to serve as lead counsel on select matters. Those companies also require that diverse teams work on their outside legal matters and that “the law firms…certify that the diverse lead lawyer hired receives financial credit as originator of the matter.”
GE Capital Americas (GECA): Every two years, GECA general counsels recommend diverse outside counsel, mostly diverse non-equity partners and associates from GECA-approved firms, participate in their Project HOLA program. Chosen outside lawyers are paired with in-house lawyers who volunteer to participate. The outside counsel have the opportunity to gain an insider view of GE’s businesses and its legal team.
Home Depot: In an annual RFP to outside firms, the company requests diversity information, including explanation of how firms put diversity first. It evaluates whether firms look at diverse slates when filling positions, whether firms ensure that Home Depot is introduced to diverse attorneys when deciding how to staff company matters, whether firms expose the company to the full range of their talent, whether firms promote diverse lawyers, and whether firms generally support the company’s efforts to work with diverse suppliers. To the extent outside firms use local counsel, court reporters, and other vendors, Home Depot expects firms to be mindful of the need to look broadly to bring in the best talent.
HP Inc.: In February 2017, Kim Rivera, HP’s chief legal officer and general counsel, articulated the company’s decision to withhold legal fees from law firms that do not meet diversity staffing requirements. HP requires its outside law firms to retain at least one diverse relationship partner or at least one woman and one racially diverse attorney who each perform at least 10 percent of the billable hours worked on HP matters.
Macy’s: The department store sets diversity objectives for each outside firm and reduces bonuses and opportunity for future work for failure to meet diversity goals.
Mansfield Rule: The Mansfield Rule, named after the first woman admitted to a U.S. Bar, “asks law firms to consider women and minority lawyers for at least 30% of their candidate pool for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, and lateral hiring.” The rule is supported by more than fifty legal departments.
MetLife: Outside counsel must “make sure that the junior diverse talent has sponsorship among the senior lawyers and that they get the best coaching and nurturing they can provide.” MetLife also requires at least one lawyer on each of the company’s outside legal teams is a minority or female lawyer. In support of these efforts, MetLife requires outside law firms to create formal plans for promoting and retaining diverse lawyers.
Microsoft: Microsoft offers 2 percent bonuses on the prior year’s fees to its premier provider firms if they meet diversity goals. Additional bonuses are on the table for firms that hit other benchmarks, such as partner and management committee diversity, diversity of relationship partners, and diversity of partners who billed for Microsoft matters as reflected in the number of hours. Over the seven years since rolling out this program, Microsoft has increased the diversity of its outside counsel teams by more than 15 percent.
Morgan Stanley: Annually, Morgan Stanley bestows a leadership award for diversity and inclusion on one of its outside law firms to promote continuous growth in that area. In an April 2017 New York Times article, the company’s chief legal officer, Eric Grossman, stated, “We put a lot of weight not just on the diverse and female attorneys who work on Morgan Stanley matters, but also on how many diverse lawyers they have in the firm and the depth of their sponsorship programs they have to promote overall diversity.”
Walmart: In 2015, Walmart developed and launched Walmart Ready, an onboarding program designed to educate women and diverse outside counsel about Walmart’s business, legal operations, and corporate culture, while affording them an opportunity to connect and network with in-house lawyers. Within a few months of its launch, more than 25 percent of the firms that participated had received a legal assignment. The company held the second Walmart Ready event in September 2016.
Xcel Energy: In 2017, the company began scoring and ranking its outside firms on factors such as demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion. Xcel Energy also assesses whether diverse lawyers at its firms have access to meaningful opportunities and allows the firms it employs or may employ access to these statistics. The company believes that being ranked against their peers motivates firms’ lawyers to take the steps needed to progress toward diversity goals.
Diversity Is Monitored by External Publications and Observers
Publications such as the American Lawyer and Vault routinely publish lists of the most diverse firms. Being featured negatively in these rankings can hurt law firms’ perception in the market. For example, an Above the Law article in 2011 pointed out specific law firms in various large cities that still “have work to do” regarding diversity.
Manhattan’s least diverse office was Pryor Cashman (which also has offices in Los Angeles) and it had no black, Latino, or openly gay lawyers. Boston got called out as the worst market in the country for diverse lawyers: half of Boston BigLaw firms have zero black or Latino partners, 20 percent have no black associates, and 30 percent have no Latino associates. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, a law firm featured on the Vault 100 list of most prestigious law firms, had one black partner in its Los Angeles office (the most diverse market for lawyers), whereas its New York offices had no black or Latino partners.
Also, countless articles in various news publications (legal and nonlegal) chronicle law firms’ efforts to become more diverse and to retain minority attorneys:
- New York Times: “Women and Minorities Make Slow Progress in Filling Ranks at Law Firms”
- Above the Law: “Diversity in the Legal Profession: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same—Until They Don’t”
- Law360: “How 5 Firms Are Building More Diverse Ranks”
- Washington Post: “Law Is the Least Diverse Profession in the Nation. And Lawyers Aren’t Doing Enough to Change That”
- New York Times: “Facebook Pushes Outside Law Firms to Become More Diverse”
There also have been numerous high-profile lawsuits against law firms for discriminating against women, LGBTQ people, and people of color.
- In 2012, Greenberg Traurig was hit with a $200 million class action lawsuit claiming “women at the firm’s Philadelphia office are compensated less than their male counterparts, are given less business-generating opportunities, and assigned lower titles.” But the disparities were “neither coincidental nor limited to its Philadelphia office,” according to the suit. The suit was filed by a former female partner who claimed she was fired for complaining to the CEO about the rampant gender discrimination going on within the firm.
- In 2015, law firm Kaye Scholer was sued for, among other things, discrimination based on sexual orientation. According to the complaint, the plaintiff claimed that she had set up a meeting between one of the co-chairs of the firm’s real estate department and the general counsel of a potential client. The general counsel self-identified as gay and asked the plaintiff whether a qualified LGBT attorney could attend the meeting as well. When the plaintiff asked the co-chair, he responded by yelling that if the general counsel cared about having an LGBT attorney present, he did not want him as a client.
- In 2017, BigLaw firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan was hit with a racial discrimination suit by a former secretary, who alleged he was called a “n****r” by his supervisor during a staff dinner.
Suffice it is to say, law firms are under massive pressure to show the public they are diverse. If a law firm fails to become sufficiently diverse, it will be called out for this in the media, and this will hurt its brand among clients and potential recruits and cost it money.
Diversity Gives a Firm a Competitive Advantage in the Marketplace
Firms with greater racial and gender diversity are significantly outperforming their homogeneous counterparts. In a 2009 article in the American Sociological Review, the most diverse companies bring in nearly fifteen times more revenue than less diverse companies. More diverse companies attain more diverse clients and generate more profit in general. Another study found that “a firm ranked in the top quarter in the diversity rankings will generate more than $100,000 of additional profit per partner than a peer firm of the same size in the same city, with the same hours and leverage but a diversity ranking in the bottom quarter of firms.”
Because the number of diverse candidates in the workforce is increasing, many believe that law firms will gain a competitive advantage if they hire and retain a greater percentage of diverse attorneys.
- Clients hiring law firms are more likely to be diverse, so law firms have a better chance getting business if they are more diverse. The most diverse firms bring in nearly fifteen times more revenue than the least diverse. This seems to point to the conclusion that diverse clients are an untapped market when there are not enough diverse attorneys to build relationships with them.
- Diverse law firms increase their marketability by having diverse attorneys who can more closely identify with diverse clients. Given the increasingly global nature of society, potential clients expect to see diverse attorneys in the law firms they consider hiring. “If a law firm is demographically representative of the general population, more people will feel comfortable with that firm, and the firm will attract a wider range of clientele.”
- Diverse law firms create a good impression in the legal market that they value diversity. A positive impression enables firms to attract top talent. “Having a diverse work force shows talented candidates that your business values different perspectives and chooses the best talent” regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etcetera. In turn, diverse attorneys tend to be more satisfied at work given the room allowed for different perspectives and experiences. Overall, three arguments arise in favor of diverse leadership: firms with diverse leadership (1) have a better chance of solving complex problems; (2) function with increased innovation; and (3) enjoy greater financial growth.
- Diverse law firms are better situated to understand the needs of clients, who may also be diverse. Larger firms serve corporations and government, which serve diverse populations. As such, those clients want their vendors to reflect their clientele. Law firms that refuse to diversify are not just losing the race but failing to get their foot in the door of new business. Further, clients look to their attorneys and law firms for more than just legal advice. At times, clients seek referrals in other fields or jurisdictions; thus, law firms that hire lawyers from diverse backgrounds are more likely to have larger networks to reach out to.
There are concrete reasons why law firms should strive to be diverse, including (1) client requirements, (2) improved recruitment, and (3) perception in the legal community. Becoming more diverse assists law firms in generating business, recruiting attorneys, and improving their brand. Various studies and observations suggest that businesses become more competitive when they are more diverse:
- A study by Dow Jones of more than twenty thousand venture-backed companies over a five-year period found that those companies with at least one woman executive were more likely to succeed than those with only men in leadership positions.
- “According to research from the Center for Talent Innovation, employees at organizations with 2-D diversity [two dimensions of diversity, covering inherent (gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation) and acquired (skills and education)] traits are 45% likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.”
- A Credit Suisse study found that companies with higher female representation at the board level or in top management exhibited higher returns on equity, higher valuations, and higher payout ratios.
- Firms “that invest in diversity and understand the changing landscape” will derive competitive advantage, says Tom Sager, former general counsel at DuPont Co. and partner at Ballard Spahr LLP. “The demographics are so obvious to all now, and to be successful, over time you’re going to have to be a leader in this space, particularly as corporations wise up and understand that a lot of the work they do with the external world is done through their law firms.”
- Quantopian “pitted the performance of Fortune 1000 companies that had women CEOs between 2002 and 2014 against the S&P 500’s performance during that same period. The comparison showed that the 80 women CEOs during those 12 years produced equity returns 226% better than the S&P 500.”
Although these studies were conducted in businesses other than law firms, they make it clear that diversity offers competitive advantages to those who embrace it.
Law firm diversity can have much greater consequences even beyond clients. It opens doors in business that would otherwise remain closed. For example, a study published in the Journal of Economics and Strategy on professional-services firms found that “shifting from an all-male or all-female staff to one split evenly along gender lines could increase revenue by [up to] 41 percent.” Additionally, a 2014 Glass Door survey found that two-thirds of people consider diversity an important factor in deciding where to work.
Diverse law firms open themselves to greater opportunities. A law firm that makes diversity one of its building blocks is available to a more diverse group of clients. For example, being able to communicate in multiple languages opens a firm to a larger client base that would be impossible to reach otherwise. Diversity also establishes more and different networking circles and activities in which potential business can be found.
Diversity Reduces the Cost of Doing Business
Inadequately managed diversity is costly to law firms in terms of increased turnover—attorneys do not stay in firms where they are unhappy and feel excluded. Attorney attrition has been attributed to “lack of adequate training and mentoring opportunities,” “poor hiring practices,” and “poor management practices” often experienced by diverse attorneys.
In a 2006 NALP Foundation study, 78 percent of new associates left their firms by the end of their fifth year. Turnover imposes substantial direct and indirect costs on law firms. The higher the rate of turnover among diverse attorneys, the more homogeneous law firms become over time, thus increasing the likelihood of lateral transfers and more turnover.
Unhappy attorneys typically do not bill as many hours as well-adjusted attorneys, and they are absent more often. Attorneys who feel isolated or not part of the team communicate less with coworkers, which makes their work take longer to complete and can decrease the quality of their service, and are less engaged with their work.
According to one researcher, in the absence of gender diversity in firms absences increase, psychological commitment decreases, intent to leave increases, and social relations decrease among gender-diverse attorneys. In the absence of racial diversity, racially diverse attorneys experience those same outcomes. In the absence of age diversity, age-diverse attorneys’ intent to leave increases. Increased turnover follows other aspects that make attorneys feel excluded. The argument is that law firms that adequately manage diversity will avoid these costs and be more profitable.
Law firms that are more diverse therefore have a competitive advantage, while law firms that hold women and minorities back from their full potential expose themselves to liability, prevent growth of their client base, and lose out on the “synergistic financial competitive advantage that diversity and inclusion represent.”
Associates and partners working in heterogeneous settings are more productive given the diversity of thought, educational backgrounds, experience levels, and identities of their colleagues. “The diverse team’s collective intelligence . . . is generally significantly greater than a team whose individual members are uniformly ‘smart.’” This is largely attributable to the firm’s ability to avoid “groupthink” suffered by nondiverse firms that approach problems from the same angle.
Diversity Cuts Down on Litigation
Diverse law firms avoid discrimination lawsuits. Law firms get fired or sued for discrimination all the time:
- In 2006, Walmart stores fired two separate law firms owing to the firms’ lack of diversity. General counsel for Walmart Thomas Mars stated, “Both of those firms were performing well, exceeding expectations, in the category of performance and in the category of cost”; however, diversity was a factor the company was not willing to compromise on. Mars later stated that corporate legal departments need to be willing to drop law firms that refuse to aim for the diversity goal clients lay out in order to force the growth of diversity programs.
- In 2012, a $200 million class action case was filed against Greenberg Taurig Hogs, alleging that females were compensated less than their male counterparts, were given less business-generating opportunities, and were assigned lower titles.
- In 2012, a large firm headquartered in New York, Kelley Dyre & Warren, settled an age discrimination lawsuit brought by a former partner who stated that the firm’s policy of de-equitizing partners after the age of seventy constituted age discrimination.
- In 2016, a lawsuit was filed against white-shoe law firm Chadbourne & Parke alleging that it paid female partners “lower salaries and bonuses than their male counterparts,” and that the plaintiff was fired after complaining about these allegations.
- In 2017, BigLaw firm Steptoe & Johnson got hit with a class action gender discrimination lawsuit alleging unequal pay for women working for the law firm.
According to Cyrus Mehri, the founder of Mehri & Skalet, a large Washington, D.C.–based class action law firm, the following “toolbox,” often used in employment discrimination case settlements, can help firms increase hiring and retention of minority lawyers:
(1) Enhancing the company’s internal and external reporting mechanisms; (2) use of an independent diversity monitor; (3) use of an independent ombudsperson, who reports to the management, to address internal complaints; (4) use of a highly qualified industrial psychologist to revise and revamp certain company policies; (5) requiring hiring managers to conduct in-person interviews with a diverse slate of candidates for all open positions; (6) structured interviews; (7) creation of company sponsored affinity groups for minority lawyers; (8) use of an external task force; (9) mentoring programs and (10) linking management compensation to the recruitment, retention, and development of diverse employees.
When law firms take steps such as those denoted above, discrimination will likely decrease as will ensuing litigation. Note that an objective human resources department can function as the neutral party employees can report to; it must prove itself trustworthy to employees so they can be assured they will not be retaliated against by the company if they speak up about harassment or discrimination complaints.
Diversity Is Necessary for Effective Recruiting
Diverse firms are in a better position to recruit top talented diverse attorneys. When shopping for a firm to work in, diverse attorneys are more interested in joining diverse firms. Even nondiverse attorneys expect there to be a certain amount of diversity in law firms they join.
If a law firm is not diverse, it may have a difficult time recruiting at law schools, where students value diversity. Law students are increasingly concerned and interested in diversity. For example, at Harvard Law School, “Students interviewed [in response to a report on diversity] . . . said that they want more classroom discussion of social, racial and economic justice, though the report points to the school’s extensive course offerings and faculty-led reading groups covering those topics.” At Chapman Law School, over 250 law students supported a proposed law journal that was tentatively titled the “Chapman Law School Diversity and Practice Journal” but that was eventually named the “Law Journal of Social Justice.”
According to a Forbes study that surveyed three hundred senior executives of companies around the globe worth at least $500 million, a diverse workforce attracts top talent. “If you want to attract the best talent, you need to be reflective of the talent in that market,” said Eileen Taylor, Deutsche Bank’s global head of diversity.
Diversity, particularly with the Millennial workforce, tends to attract young, highly skilled individuals. The same is said of law firms that make diversity a priority in their practice areas. As wealth now transcends nearly every ethnicity and nationality, the need for a diverse group of lawyers is critical to serving these clients. Young wealth—that is, the pioneers in tech, gaming, and other multimedia sectors—tends to feel easier about someone their age handling their legal affairs as opposed to someone older who has no concept of what these young, wealthy individuals have accomplished culturally.
Diversity Provides Creative Problem Solving
Per Clio, a law practice management software company, one of the simple ways firms retain clients is by delivering excellent substantive work product. To deliver that excellent substantive work product, there must be sharp decision making. Better decision making results in better satisfied clients, which refer additional clients, giving the firm additional business.
Some suggest that when a law firm is diverse, attorneys have insights and access to perspectives that they normally would not have. Diverse attorneys have diverse viewpoints, and a different perspective can sometimes help groups reach better decisions that benefit clients. When a law firm is diverse, different perspectives are honored and everyone feels like he or she has a right to contribute to the health of the law firm.
Others suggest that diverse team members live in two cultures simultaneously and therefore tend to be more creative thinkers. Studies have found that heterogeneous groups, ones that include minority views and a diversity of persons, are more creative and devise more possible solutions to problems than homogeneous groups.
The age we live in has repeatedly proven that creativity leads to success. “Numerous commentators have argued that enhancing the creative performance of employees is a necessary step if organizations are able to achieve competitive advantage.”
We can think of diversity in law practice in much the same way. Law firm diversity can be compared to a box with 120 colors of crayons in it. From that big box of crayons, something creative is bound to emerge. Diversity fosters an environment open to innovation. According to a study by Roy Y. J. Chua of Harvard Business School, “The more your network includes individuals from different cultural backgrounds, the more you will be creatively stimulated by different ideas and perspectives.” Presenting an idea to a diverse group of people typically results in more discussion than presenting the same idea to a homogeneous group. Different backgrounds can produce different opinions and ideas.
Of course, opinions can result in disagreements, but disagreements provide opportunities for even more innovative thought and problem solving. Disagreements and discussions eventually lead to advancements. Lawyers who do not face conflict, strong discussions, and diverse opinions become comfortable and their firms cease to progress.
Diversity Is a Reality
It really is a small world after all. We know this simply by how easy it is to connect to nearly anyone on the planet. And with the neighborhoods of our cities and towns becoming more diverse, many accept diversity as today’s model of humanity. We are used to seeing others from different regions, cultures, and walks of life every day on television, social media, and the internet. We are now accustomed to what was once regarded as foreign and exotic.
As such, it makes sense that individuals who seek law firm services would rather see a firm-wide representation similar to what they see in their neighborhoods. People want to see a variety of races and genders representative of their own lives.
A wide range of people of various ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds seek legal help. In the United States, more than fifteen million civil suits are filed annually. In the United Kingdom, the Civil and Social Justice survey from 2006–2009 found that “36% of the adult population experience a civil and social justice problem over a three-year period. Of these, 9% take no action and 49% seek advice. Only 29% seek advice from traditional forms of legal adviser. Further only 13.3% sought advice from solicitors.” People from all walks of life require legal help in some capacity. Simply put, when dealing with matters serious enough to warrant counsel, potential clients want someone with whom they feel comfortable and who they can relate to.
Demographically diverse law firms tend to put a large cross section of society at ease. Clients “often believe that their race will factor into how they will be treated throughout the process of obtaining relief and will factor into what relief may be available to them.”
For example, “blacks would likely want their case in the hands of someone who sees the world as they do, someone who can personally identify with their historical and current struggle in this country as black Americans, and someone who may be less likely to judge them because they are black.” “Same-race legal representation can . . . reinforce an undeniable bond—a historic, common struggle against racial discrimination and oppression.” The African American general counsel may be happy to see an African American attorney representing the company. Locating a decent attorney is no easy feat for clients, particularly when the practice of law is done from a cultural point of view that they are unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with.
Old-school law firms are pretty much doomed once their old-school clients die off. The practice of law shifts to accommodate the changes in demographics. Those who represent the law must shift as well.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.