5 Ways to Improve Big Law’s Diversity Problem

Lawyers discuss diversity and inclusion in the legal profession at the Big Law Business Diversity and Inclusion Summit in 2016. Photo by Jamie Watts for Big Law Business

Diversity has long been a sensitive subject for lawyers at large law firms and in-house departments. Despite repeated efforts to improve the picture over several decades or more, the leadership ranks still look pretty much the same, notably lacking women and minorities.

While bar organizations and firms have launched initiatives to address the issue, employment figures reported by The National Association for Law Placement and The American Lawyer indicate little progress.

Last year, the American Lawyer reported that women represent a little less than 17 percent of the lawyers in equity partnerships in the AmLaw 200. It also found that among 220 law firms with more than 154 lawyers just 14.4 percent of attorneys were minorities.

The figures, which haven’t changed much over the years, made us wonder what needs to be done to achieve the significant progress that so many leaders say they are committed to?

On Wednesday, Big Law Business hosted an event in midtown Manhattan where leaders in the legal and business communities convened to discuss the issue.

The event, which kicked off in the afternoon, featured an hour-long workshop in which attendees were tasked with proposing solutions to a set of recurring problems that keep law firms from making headway in their diversity initiatives.

While it’s probably impossible to fully capture the biggest problems in just a handful of quick bullet points, we listed the main takeaways below to boil it down.

We offer the list for readers to take a moment to contemplate their own diversity efforts.

The top problems:

• Implicit/unconscious bias.

• Lack of diversity on executive and management committees.

• Insufficient exposure to decision makers.

• Failure to get critical feedback.

• Lack of succession planning for leadership.

BLB Diversity breakout2

The top solutions:

• Expand training on implicit bias and collect data to hold leaders accountable for improving their diversity figures.

• Increase the number of seats in the C-Suite to include diverse members.

• Mandate sponsorship programs that pair partners and managers with more junior diverse lawyers to ensure their development.

• Improve transparency into the promotion process and sponsorship programs.

• Implement stricter policies that require management to improve diversity figures.

BLB breakout

If you’re interested in writing about diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, write to us at BigLawBusiness@bna.com.