A diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy should begin with a written plan, and this plan should have a clear mission/vision, measurable strategic objectives, and an affirmative endorsement from leadership of the firm. For those at the beginning of their DEI journey, a good way to start drafting the plan is by asking, “What does DEI look like at the firm today?” and “What does the firm want to look like tomorrow?”
The answers to these questions should help the firm focus its attention on the most critical needs or areas of improvement. It will be important to gather and analyze the demographic data of the employees of the firm, including non-attorneys, to be truly inclusive. Demographic data should include historically underrepresented individuals, including women, people of color, LGBTQ, and individuals with disabilities.
After reviewing this demographic data, a firm should be able to compare its demographic profile against similarly situated peer law firms or published industry data. Again, this will help the firm determine where to focus its attention and resources.
For example, let’s assume that, after asking the above questions, the demographic data indicates that, overall, the firm is performing admirably on gender diversity with over 40% women attorneys on a firmwide basis. However, when you look at the representation of attorneys of color, LGBTQ, and differently abled attorneys on a firmwide basis and at the equity partnership level, the percentages drop significantly—13% and 9%, respectively.
In this case, there is a clear opportunity to perform better in recruiting, retaining, and advancing attorneys of color, LGBTQ attorneys, and differently abled attorneys. Demographic data may also reveal that the firm needs to build better pipelines of historically underrepresented attorneys internally and externally to diversify leadership and governance roles in the firm. It is also possible the firm may have never captured certain demographic groups in the past, and it may need to launch a voluntary self-identification survey to capture missing categories of historically underrepresented employees.
As the firm begins to formalize its DEI plan, it should evaluate and decide on the most important strategic pillars supporting the overall DEI approach and priorities, including recruitment, retention, equitable advancement, and learning/development. To set the right tone throughout the firm, leadership should consider amending its core values to echo the same message found in the firm’s DEI mission and vision. It is also important to express this commitment in an inclusive manner and make it apply to both lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Here is an example of how we amended our Core Values to include DEI:
A diverse and inclusive workplace brings different perspectives, yielding more creativity and better results on behalf of our clients and our firm. We will ensure that diversity and inclusion will permeate through every aspect of the firm for both lawyers and non-lawyers alike, focusing primarily on recruitment, retention, advancement, and learning. Our inclusive environment will be free of all forms of discrimination, will permit everyone to bring their authentic self to work and will cultivate a workplace in which all individuals and groups feel welcomed, respected, and valued.
After leadership affirmatively endorses the DEI plan and priorities, it should consider communicating the plan across the firm’s office(s). The marketing team could collaborate closely with the Diversity and Inclusion Committee or diversity leadership in developing strategic communications about the DEI plan and priorities. It is important to make everyone at the firm aware of the DEI plan, priorities, and direction; and to ensure the plan is well understood.
Use CLM and Other External Resources
Although a mid-sized firm may produce many DEI initiatives and programs internally, limited resources may force the firm to think about how to leverage external resources to reach DEI goals and objectives. Partnering with a key client to co-develop and co-sponsor DEI initiatives can be an effective way to move the needle forward in retention and advancement of historically underrepresented professionals.
One strategy to develop, retain, and advance historically underrepresented professionals at a law firm is to give them access to corporate clients. Many historically underrepresented law firm associates are not given access to the client due to a number of reasons, including unconscious bias, lack of organically grown contacts, and a lack of relationships in a particular industry. Historically underrepresented associates can truly benefit from a collaborative partnership between the client and law firm that will develop and refine the attorney’s networking skills, client development skills, and marketing skills; as well as provide increased knowledge, access, and opportunities in the particular industry.
We recently joined forces with a key client to develop a program that would connect an underrepresented lawyer with a client’s insurance fellow to potentially teach a course at CLM’s Claims College. This is a great forum for underrepresented attorneys to partner with representatives from the industry to build common experiences and connections. It also allows the attorney and industry professional to demonstrate their abilities and expertise to each other and in front of an audience. This type of partnership creates a pipeline of underrepresented counsel and industry professionals to teach at CLM’s Claims College.
Having a diverse group of professors at this college has numerous and obvious benefits. It increases minority representation and participation at the college, and also creates opportunities to build relationships for both fellows and members through CLM.
There are similar partnering opportunities through speaking engagements at CLM’s Annual Conference. Both law firms and industry professionals benefit from the collaboration and partnership of a diverse workforce free of artificial and historically biased barriers. Initiatives that cultivate new relationships and opportunities across a diverse mix of people help both entities achieve their DEI objectives and improve the quality of the professional workforce overall.
Other external resources that may help the firm with recruitment, retention, and advancement of historically underrepresented attorneys include membership with the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) and registering for Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule for Midsize Firms (2021-2023). Both of these organizations help firms move the needle in recruiting, retaining, and advancing historically underrepresented attorneys.
Once you become a member of LCLD, it calls upon its members (chief legal officers or managing partners of law firms) to create personal action plans, and publicly commit to them, with the goal of diversifying the legal profession (see sidebar, “Making the Pledge”). This kind of commitment and strategic leadership helps drive change and keeps a firm focused on achieving its DEI plan and priorities.
Notwithstanding the above, a firm should constantly strive to find new and better ways to incorporate DEI as a meaningful part of who it is as an organization and how it wants to do business. Having an active DEI committee working closely with leadership and key stakeholders to carry out the DEI plan and priorities helps keep things moving forward and holds the stakeholders accountable. The committee should also enact impactful firm-wide policies and programs, as well as implement innovative initiatives that foster a culture of respect and belonging. Finally, it is important for the firm to continuously measure and track the progress being made by using demographic benchmarks or targets, including attrition rates and representation goals.
Making the Pledge
Wondering what an effective DEI action plan looks like in writing? Here is the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity pledge released by Foley and Mansfield’s founding managing partner, Kyle B. Mansfield:
I, Kyle B. Mansfield, personally commit to the following:
• I will use my position to improve our processes and ensure fairness in recruiting, professional development, promotion, compensation, and appointment to leadership roles for lawyers and staff.
• I will meet and have frequent contact with the director of human resources, the director of diversity and inclusion, and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee to advance diversity and inclusion programming and opportunities at the firm.
• I will meet at least twice a year with our current LCLD fellow and pathfinders for updates about their experiences at our firm and LCLD programming and on how we can improve diversity and inclusion at the firm.
• I will advocate for systemic changes to uproot inequity in our community and in our profession.
• I will seek out lawyers of underrepresented groups at internal and external meetings to engage with them and make them feel welcome.
• I will meet with my partners in leadership positions to ensure their support for our firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts and request updates from them regarding their personal efforts to attract, retain and promote underrepresented attorneys, and how often they have participated in firm-wide diversity and inclusion activities and initiatives.
• “We will consider at least 50% women, racial and ethnic minorities, lawyers with disabilities, and/or LGBTQ+ lawyers for the firm’s lawyer hiring opportunities, formal pitch/client meetings, and leadership positions at the firm.
• We will create and maintain a sense of belonging at the firm through our actions and words to ensure that all lawyers and staff feel accepted and supported when they come to work.
• We will closely monitor the assignment of our cases and client responsibilities to ensure that our practices are equitable and include equal opportunities for underrepresented lawyers.
• We will ensure that partner and associate compensation systems reflect diversity and inclusion efforts.
• We will seek out opportunities for the firm to participate in recruiting programs geared towards increasing diversity in the profession.
• We will seek out programs that can be co-developed with potential or existing clients that promote diversity and eliminate bias in the legal profession.
• We will support the expansion of the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts to include professional support staff.”