Nine Tips for Building a Diverse and Inclusive Law Firm

January 28, 2016

Robert K. Dixon is an associate with Wilson Turner Kosmo LLP in San Diego, California. Ghenete Wright Muir is a senior attorney with The Florida Bar.

There are numerous benefits of having a diverse and inclusive law firm. For example, “diverse and inclusive law firms perform better, relate better to clients, courts, juries, and other decision makers important to their clients’ success,” according to Gary L. Sasso of Carlton Fields. These benefits push many law firms to build diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

In light of the emphasis many firms place on the issue of diversity and inclusion, we asked influential attorneys from a variety of firms for their insights on this issue. Here, these elite attorneys offer tips for building and sustaining diverse and inclusive law firms.

Diversity-Aligned Recruiting
Law firms use a variety of approaches to build diversity—one of which is recruiting. As Mollie F. Benedict of Tucker Ellis LLP explained, “Diversity-aligned recruiting is key to organically produce a diverse culture within a law firm.” As such, to build a diverse law firm, the firm’s diversity objectives and recruiting objectives must go hand-in-hand.

Invest in Diverse Attorneys
To build and sustain a diverse law firm, it is important to identify and develop diverse lawyers. Tiffani G. Lee of Holland & Knight LLP during the early or “investment years,” firms should “make sure diverse lawyers are getting good training, constructive feedback with opportunities to correct, equitable work distribution, real client-facing opportunities, stretch assignments, increasing responsibility, and access to key decision-makers.” But this is not a one-sided investment. Lee notes that “diverse lawyers have to similarly view their early years as ‘investment years’ and make sure they are doing all within their power to take advantage of opportunities for growth and development.”

Consider Diversity for Internal Roles and Positions
To build and maintain a diverse law firm, diversity considerations must go well beyond the interview stage. As Nancy Faggianelli of Carlton Fields explains, firms should “consider diverse candidates for every role (e.g., client teams, case assignments, leadership roles, committee or task force responsibilities, business development initiatives, and social events) before making a final staffing decision.” Ms. Faggianelli suggests that considering diversity “should not displace anyone from these opportunities,” but rather, gives the firm “more options to consider.”

If You Develop Associates, Diverse Attorneys Will Come
“Firms must create an environment that fosters the professional development of all associates,” according to Al De La Cruz of Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester LLP. De La Cruz says that such an “environment will attract diverse individuals without singling them out; thereby creating inclusion rather than division.” Thus building a well-rounded associate development program will not only attract diverse candidates but will also build an inclusive firm.

It’s as Easy as “Let’s Do Lunch”
Building and fostering an inclusive environment can be achieved with expansive firm-wide programs, but it can also be achieved with small acts. Inviting diverse lawyers to lunch only now and again, said Faggianelli, is a simple act that will help all attorneys in the firm “feel truly welcome in the firm and part of the fabric of the firm.”

Celebrate Differences to Create Inclusion
Vernã Myers, Esq., principal of Vernã Myers Consulting Group, LLC, often says, “Diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance.” While improving a firm’s diversity statistics might be somewhat simple, it is somewhat more difficult to create an inclusive firm. In other words, how can firms create an environment in which everyone is asked to dance? To answer this question, firms have adopted a variety of different approaches. Tucker Ellis LLP, for example, hosts an annual Stone Soup Potluck during which the employees “are encouraged to bring a dish unique to their background/culture and share with others,” said Mollie F. Benedict of Tucker Ellis.

Community Outreach
To build a diverse and inclusive law firm, according to Alicia L. Wilson of Gordon Feinblatt LLC, “law firm leaders must be involved in initiatives in their local diversity within their communities. If you want to attract and retain diverse personnel to your firm, law firm leaders must be engaged in concrete things that demonstrate that diversity matters and is a firm value.”

Management Must Be Diverse
Hiring diverse attorneys is necessary to build a diverse law firm, but “to truly ensure that the diversity gains actually take root and are sustainable, diverse attorneys must be reflected at the management level,” said Vickie E. Turner  of Wilson Turner Kosmo LLP. Firms with diverse management provide associates a career roadmap to follow as well as the validation that the firm recognizes and rewards hard work.

Communication Is Key
Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel’s managing shareholder, Jerry D. Hamilton, says that communication is vital to building a diverse and inclusive law firm: “Communicate your firm’s diversity and inclusion in your values statement or mission of the firm to both employees and clients and, and more importantly, to exhibit these values in your day-to-day practice and professional engagement with the community.”

Keywords: litigation, diversity, inclusion, diverse law firms, tips for law firms


Copyright © 2016, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).

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