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January 27, 2023 Feature Article

ABA and Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals Join Forces on Survey

Michelle Behnke, Author | Tamara P. Nash, Editor
Michelle Behnke

Michelle Behnke

Chair, ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession

On October 3, 2022 the ABA announced its official co-sponsorship and co-branding relationship with the Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals (ALFDP), the leading international organization for law firm diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) professionals with nearly 400 members. Through the partnership, the ALFDP and ABA will ensure that the most reliable data is available to advance DEI in meaningful ways. 

Stemming from Resolution 113, a product of the Diversity 360 Commission formed by Paulette Brown during her term as ABA President, the ABA Model Diversity Survey helps companies assess the DEI efforts of the law firms that represent them. With a key goal being the economic empowerment of diverse lawyers, the Commission urged through Resolution 113, that law firms and corporate clients create opportunities for and direct a greater percentage of their legal spending toward diverse attorneys. The survey serves as an accountability tool. 

As the Commission issued its first two reports based on the data from the MDS the thought of partnering with other entities administering surveys became a consideration.  While the MDS has been adopted by some 200 corporations and data has been collected from more than 500 law firms, the number of survey vendors has grown. Many of the new entities in the diversity survey space are for-profit entities. Many law firms are spending hundreds of hours responding to the dozens and dozens of surveys now being used. Reducing the number of surveys is a goal of the MDS and to that end; the Commission began work to seek collaboration and partnership with other survey entities.  Unbeknownst to the Commission, ALFDP was hearing from its members about the burgeoning number of surveys and the growing burden that law firms are experiencing in trying to respond to the increased number of surveys. ALFDP had in fact surveyed its members about the number of surveys they were collectively completing and inquired about the nature of the questions and the level of personally identifiable data being sought.

From this survey of ALFDF members, the MDS was identified as a high ranking survey choice. The Commission then decided to seek to establish a "co-sponsorship/co-branding" of the MDS. The co-sponsorship/co-branding is aimed at allowing both organizations to promote the MDS, encourage law firms and corporations to use the MDS, and to work on joint programming for law firms and corporations around use of the data and improving the demographics in the legal profession. The partnership will not:

  • Change ownership of the MDS
  • Change data ownership, access, or control (ABA data)
  • Require contributions from ALFDP for platform changes or portal enhancements

The Commission began discussions with ALFDP as a result of a survey among the ALFDP membership. Given that one of the original goals for the MDS was to provide one standardized survey that law firms and corporate legal departments could use to gather diversity data, doing things to make data collection easy and efficient seemed worth exploring.  

In announcing the co-sponsorship/co-branding, former ABA President, Paulette Brown, who now serves as an Executive Advisor to ALFDP, said “the data and insights gleaned from the MDS have been crucial in enhancing diverse representation in law firms. As the numbers of legal departments and law firms depending on this preferred industry survey continue to grow, our hope is our members along with the ABA can help further their contribution to the advancement of DEI through specific information, trends and key data.”

ABA President, Deborah Enix-Ross said, “We’re confident that this collaboration will help the ABA Model Diversity Survey stay current and prove even more useful to clients and law firms in their pursuit of greater diversity in the legal profession. Expanding the use of and reliance on the MDS is vital to supporting those seeking reliable data while decreasing the number of survey variants.”

Both organizations are now working to promote the MDS and to take the next steps in discussing how the data is being used or can be used and encouraging both clients and law firms to really lean in to the discussions that are necessary in order to really understand what might drive greater diversity in the legal profession. As we all know, the survey itself won't increase the diversity in the legal profession, but going beyond the survey to develop strategies around hiring, promotion, and retention will make the difference. We are looking forward to making a difference. 

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