Law Firm Diversity and Inclusion (Conference Notes)

Bloomberg BNA hosted a Big Law Business Diversity & Inclusion Conference in New York City on October 29, 2015. As is refreshingly typical with conferences that Bloomberg BNA hosts, the panels consisted of representatives from law firms and corporate legal departments, allowing us to hear perspectives from both sides: counsel and client. Here’s a summary of notes I took at a few panels. There’s lots more. Videos will be up soon on Bloomberg BNA.

The Business Imperative for Diversity

How does diversity build business?

  • Better understand client’s language, values, etc.
  • Includes women, people of color, LGBT, and disabled.

Where are the barriers?

  • Law firms have the infrastructure but not a lot of progress
  • Relationships – need to create opportunities to network with law firm and in-house minority lawyers
  • Lack of visible leadership
  • We’ve been talking for a long time. It’s time to act
  • Clients are demanding it – representative of a culture change

Foster an apprenticeship culture

  • Be deliberate
  • Be mindful
  • Your sponsors or mentors do not have to look like you
  • It’s not about lack of talent, it’s about being deliberate in your focus and outreach
  • Send surveys to outside counsel about diversity at the firm. (In-house counsel can lead in this regard)
  • Make decision to hire firms, including long-standing relationships based on Value + Quality + Diversity
  • Managing partner can change the way work is assigned at the firm
  • Diversity in leadership position is key or else there is no meaningful change
  • Each one, teach one
  • Constant messaging

Beware of unconscious bias

  • Fear and concern of difference can lead to avoidance
  • Don’t make knee-jerk assumptions
  • Be careful when making “merit” standards decision. “What is merit?”

Attracting the Best

Steps to take

  • Begins at the top
  • Lawyers like data. Give them the reasons for doing it
  • Walk the talk in your own teams
  • Be present in all of the conversations at the firm
  • Make sure you don’t use qualifiers. What does “qualified diverse lawyers” mean anyway?
  • What gets measured gets managed. For instance, government-related entities are required to track affirmative action efforts and have lots of data

How do you hire diverse talent?

  • Promote programs such as flex-time
  • Affinity groups / Resource groups (Asian, African-American, etc). Spend time networking with each other
  • Host diversity retreats
  • Partner and counsel diversity meetings
  • Have a legal alliance for women (and other) group in the firm – conferences, seminars, meetings
  • Law firms recruiters should go to events around the country that are specifically designed to promote attorneys of color and other minorities
  • Provide scholarship to diverse students – develop the pipeline
  • Focus on business development
  • Find out why are firms losing people
  • Fight unconscious bias hindrance to recruiting
  • Don’t just hire, develop. In-house counsel are looking at how law firms are developing talent
  • Provide infrastructure and support