The Creation & Evolution of the Model Diversity Survey
The American Bar Association has four goals to achieve its mission. Goal III seeks to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the legal profession. Under Goal III, diversity is considered race/ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ+ status and disability status.
One of the many questions asked when considering how we advance diversity, equity and inclusion is “why should we seek to provide equal opportunities to qualified individuals regardless of background besides it being ‘the right thing to do?’” The most understood reasons are that it leads to better talent, better understanding of customers, better decision-making, better innovation and creativity, and better engaged and productive teams.
Diverse individuals’ representation in the U.S. population is not commensurate with their representation in the legal profession. For example, consider the following:
➢ Women are slightly over half of the population but are only 35% of attorneys.
➢ Blacks and Latinos are just over a third of the population but are only approximately 10% of attorneys.
In-house counsel senior leadership has shown a greater increase in diversity than law firms (which lag behind with essentially no increase at the senior leadership level).
➢ The percentage of women general counsel of the Fortune 500 has increased continuously since 2014 to 25% in 2016.
➢ The percentage of racially diverse (black, Latino, and Asian) general counsel of the Fortune 500 is approximately 10%.
➢ The percentage of women in equity partnership ranks has increased less than a percentage point to 17.8% between 2014 and 2015.
➢ The percentage of racial minorities in equity partnership ranks remained at 5.6% between 2014 to 2015.
The lack of diversity within law firms does not appear to be a pipeline issue:
➢ Women constituting half of law school graduates.
➢ People of color constituting a quarter of law school graduates.
➢ Women and people of color make up 45% and 22% of law firm associates, respectively.
The American Bar Association’s Diversity & Inclusion 360 Commission
During her ABA presidency in 2015 – 2016, Paulette Brown created the Diversity & Inclusion 360 Commission. Four working groups were created to assess diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and create action plans to achieve the ABA’s Goal III. The four working groups were: Economic Case, Diversity & Inclusion, Pipeline and Implicit Bias. The Economic Case working group explored ways to increase economic opportunities for diverse attorneys and drafted ABA Resolution 113 (“Resolution”).
Resolution 113 (and How it Created the Model Diversity Survey)
The Resolution was passed in August 2016. It urges legal service providers to expand and create opportunities for diverse attorneys and urges the buyers of legal services to direct a greater percentage of legal spend towards diverse attorneys. In the report supporting the Resolution, the following goals were stated:
➢ Increase diversity at all levels within the legal profession which will make the legal field a more appealing profession for diverse individuals;
➢ Increase in the number of diverse attorneys and remediate the issues of implicit bias in the legal profession; and
➢ Encourage corporate clients to use a Model Diversity Survey in procuring and evaluating legal service providers.
Model Diversity Survey
The Model Diversity Survey is the primary tool to implement Resolution 113. The purpose of the survey is to serve as the standard for law firms’ reporting of their diversity metrics. The benefits the survey has are data uniformity, time efficiency, and trending year over year in aggregate and for individual firms.
The survey is free of charge for corporate signatories and stakeholders and does not require a paid membership to use. Corporations simply need to become a signatory in order to gain real-time access to any law firms’ diversity demographic data submitted in response to the Model Diversity Survey. GCs can now gain access to the diversity data reported by any firm. The law firms’ role is to simply complete the standardized Model Diversity Survey on the ABA portal on an annual basis and monitor firm trends over time. By participating in this effort, the firms and corporations will have the ability to use the survey results as a benchmarking tool.
What Does This Mean for the Big Picture?
The survey offers transparency to corporate clients. It allows for the measurement of trends in law firm partnership ranks, hiring practices, attrition rates, lawyers working on flexible schedules, and the ranks of highest compensated attorneys. The survey also allows for GCs and law firm relationship partners to agree upon “client-specific” questions, which is more efficient and cost-effective than filling out entire separate questionnaires. Finally, having a comprehensive annual report of aggregated data that trends over time will offer the ability to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession.
Corporate America’s Implementation of the Resolution
To become a signatory, general counsel is asked to do the following:
➢ Notify the ABA that they support the Resolution and wish to sign the pledge;
➢ Ask the firms that provide a significant portion of legal services to complete the Survey;
➢ Require firms that are competing to handle a significant matter for the company to complete the Survey;
➢ Use the Survey results, as a tool in determining what firms to retain or with which to continue doing business; and
➢ Advise the ABA that they support the above four principles, such that an ongoing list of those that have committed to the principles can be maintained and published.
Benefits of the Model Diversity Survey for All Attorneys
➢ Law firms will gain a greater assortment of perspectives in their firms to enable them to achieve better results.
➢ Diverse attorneys, given an equal opportunity, will have greater chances of obtaining leadership roles in the legal profession.
➢ The efforts of the Economic Case work group, and all supporters of the Resolution, are intended to increase trust that the legal profession is one of ethical conduct and integrity that is seeking equal opportunity for access, acceptance, and advancement for all attorneys.
➢ The cultural shift toward more inclusion in law firms will benefit law firms, as they must be prepared to operate in an increasingly diverse society with increasingly diverse clients.
How to Join the GC Pledge
Download Letter from the original Signatories describing the importance of the Pledge here.
Please contact us to "Join the GC Pledge."
2020 ABA Model Diversity Survey Information
Firms that have not received an invitation from a Signatory, please click here to submit your survey based on your 2019 firm demographics and policies.
- Please click here to download a copy of the survey to prepare for your online submission.