36 Law Firms Pilot Ideas to Resolve Gender Divide

Thirty six law firms have signed on to implement and pilot ideas generated by the Women In Law Hackathon, a June event at Stanford Law School in which teams of lawyers pitched ideas to increase gender parity in their workplaces.

The ideas include an app to track lawyers’ progress on the partnership track, a data-based compensation tool, a gender-neutral reporting and evaluation system, and the so-called “Mansfield Rule,” which, much like the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, would require firms to interview a certain number of qualified women for leadership positions.

“It’s the life cycle of an attorney’s life in terms of getting partnership, sustaining partnership, and then getting into a leadership role,” said Caren Ulrich Stacy, founder and CEO of Diversity Lab, the organizer of the Hackathon. “There wasn’t one we felt we could leave out.”

The Women in Law Hackathon began with 54 law firms, each of which sent a high-ranking partner to participate in the competition. Nine teams, each comprised of six partners, two advisors and one Stanford law student, competed in June in a “Shark Tank” style pitch session. As a sponsor of the event, Bloomberg Law awarded prize money to the top three teams.

Ulrich Stacy told Big Law Business she decided to organize the pilot program after many firms asked for help implementing the hackathon ideas.

“The fear again is that we go back into our respective corners and develop these in isolation,” she said. “As a community, we can solve these problems with much more speed and clarity if we’re doing this in a collaborative way.”

Six distinct pilot programs have been developed from the nine ideas generated at the Hackathon:

• The Mansfield Rule: Named for the first woman to pass the bar in the United States, the rule would require firms to interview and consider a certain percentage of women for key leadership positions.

• An app to help guide mid- and senior-level women into partnerships by gamifying their career plans.

• A program designed to eliminate systemic and individual barriers to business development immediately before and after women are made partner.

• A data-based compensation tool to help firms mitigate unconscious bias and reduce the gender pay gap.

• A gender-neutral reporting and evaluation system to help attorneys get credit for non-billable work that adds value to the firm.

• A secondment program that immerses a partner and an associate with a client for 12 months to learn their business, service their matters and eventually get credit for the relationship.

The participating firms will collaborate on the initiative through a “Hackathon Alliance” under Diversity Lab’s direction. Ulrich Stacy said Diversity Lab is still in the process of developing each pilot program, and that the firms will begin implementing them in 2017. As part of the program, firms will collect and share data not only about their successes but about their missteps, according to Ulrich Stacy.

Of the 54 original law firms, 18 won’t be participating in this new phase of the program. But they didn’t bow out due to lack of interest, according to Urich Stacy, who said many of them already have other gender parity initiatives underway. “I fully expect there will be a couple of those firms or maybe more who sign on later to these ideas,” she said.

A second Women in Law Hackathon will be held in 2018, in partnership with Harvard Law, according to Ulrich Stacy.

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