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ARTICLE

Revolution or Revelation? Inclusion Is Just as Important as Diversity

Matthew Snider and Renee Wong

Summary

  • According to the ABA, as of 2020, 86 percent of all lawyers in America identified as non-Hispanic whites, a decline of only 3 percent as compared with 2010. However, the percentage of lawyers of color grew only about 3 percent, from 11.4 percent to 14.1 percent, as compared with 2010.
  • Law firms may increase diversity and inclusion practices, but understanding the diverse talent they bring in is another element to building retention.
  • The Inclusion Blueprint, a collaborative project between Diversity Lab and ChIPs, allows for law firms to track their diversity and inclusion efforts at both the firm leadership and practice group levels.

 

Revolution or Revelation? Inclusion Is Just as Important as Diversity
Sarah Mason via Getty Images

One of the most recognizable lyrics from Hamilton: An American Musical, written by show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, comes from the song “Schuyler Sisters,” where Angelica Schuyler, in the role originated by actress Renee Elise Goldsberry, exclaims:

[Y]ou want a revolution, I want a revelation! So, listen to my declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ’a compel him to include women in the sequel. Work!

Applying these lyrics to the future of the legal profession, how may law firms be compelled to embrace inclusion in their sequel? Lin-Manuel Miranda has already answered this question for us. One word: “Work!” Working to intentionally implement initiatives such as the Inclusion Blueprint, a project providing law firms with the tools to measure their current diversity profile and initiatives (discussed below), while investing in concrete future inclusion practices through the use of tracking tools. As well as initiatives such as the American Bar Association’s ABA-Wide 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge, which states its purpose as having been formulated for participants to advance deeper understandings of the intersections of race, power, privilege, supremacy, and oppression.

Current Diversity of the Legal Profession

According to the ABA Profile of the Legal Profession 2020, as of 2020, 86 percent of all lawyers in America identified as non-Hispanic whites, a decline of only 3 percent as compared with 2010. However, the percentage of lawyers of color grew only about 3 percent, from 11.4 percent to 14.1 percent, as compared with 2010. So two inquiries are presented: (1) Though there has been a small gain, how does the legal profession adequately adjust to the rise in lawyers of color through inclusion initiatives for the hopes of retention? (2) How does the legal profession perform a self-assessment to further bridge the gaps and disparities in diverse representation?

One solution is the Inclusion Blueprint, which provides law firms the ability to track, measure, and benchmark their diversity and inclusion efforts, with an emphasis on inclusion. A commitment to increasing diversity is half of the equation; a shared commitment to retaining and developing diverse individuals through the use of proper inclusion principles is the other. Is the need for increased inclusion practices in the legal profession a revolution? Or is it simply a revelation to most? The answers may vary. Either way, the Inclusion Blueprint is one way to provide a mirror to law firms so that they can face the stark reflection of underrepresentation in the legal profession, and it is a pathway to invest in intentional change.

What Is the Inclusion Blueprint?

The Inclusion Blueprint, a collaborative project between Diversity Lab and ChIPs, allows for law firms to track their diversity and inclusion efforts at both the firm leadership and practice group levels. Originally created in 2018 to measure diversity of women in firm leadership and in intellectual property (IP) practice areas, the success of the 2018 launch allowed for expansion of the project. Now the Inclusion Blueprint is able to track diversity and inclusion efforts for numerous racial/ethnic groups, LGTBQ+ attorneys, and attorneys with disabilities in all practice areas.

The Inclusion Blueprint starts with implementation of its tracking “roadmaps”: one aimed at firm leadership and the other at practice groups. The Inclusion Blueprint 2020–2021 Strategic Planning Guide details how firm and practice group leaders complete the “roadmaps” to “clearly identify what they are already doing to ensure inclusivity, and what they can do additionally in 2021 and beyond to enhance their firm’s efforts to be more inclusive. . . .” The guide features three main categories of tracking: (1) current diversity goals and yearly progression to attaining such goals, (2) ongoing inclusion practices and activities, and (3) a commitment to taking “hard” actions and implementing them over the next year.

Why Is the Inclusion Blueprint a Standout?

So, by now, the glaring question on your mind is how does the Inclusion Blueprint differ from the other numerous diversity and inclusion programs and assessments we have used in the past? We asked Erin Hichman, director of Data Management at Diversity Lab, and she explained:

The Inclusion Blueprint measures inclusion, not just diversity representation. The Inclusion Blueprint focuses on the actions and activities that drive inclusion and equity across all levels of the firm. Inclusion begets diversity, so it’s an incredibly important part of the equation that firms need to measure and track in addition to how diverse they are as a firm.

Hichman further pointed out:

The Inclusion Blueprint differs significantly from traditional diversity surveys in several main ways. Rather than asking for a snapshot of raw data and metrics on the representation of historically underrepresented lawyers, it provides specific targets (the “Inclusion Blueprint Thresholds”) across four populations that firms should strive to achieve at both the firm leadership and practice group levels, including: 30% representation of women equity partners; 15% representation of underrepresented racial and ethnic equity partners; 5% representation of LGBTQ+ equity partners; and 5% representation of equity partners with disabilities.

In setting these targets, Diversity Lab looked at recent law school graduation rates and the current representation of historically underrepresented populations at Am Law 200 firms. The Inclusion Blueprint Thresholds are middle-ground targets between those numbers, and definitely a stretch for the majority of Am Law 200 firms to reach in the short-term. Reaching these targets is by no means the end goal; we plan to increase the targets until they mirror law school graduation rates and the U.S. Census.

In a January 2020 press release from Diversity Lab, Noreen Krall, head of Litigation at Apple and board chair of ChIPs, stated:

There are many great surveys in the legal market that measure the representation of diverse law firm lawyers. The Inclusion Blueprint serves a different purpose. . . . Although the Blueprint does assess where firms currently stand, it also encourages firms to implement inclusion practices that research shows will help them boost the representation of diverse lawyers. Over time, we expect to see more firms implementing these practices and making positive gains as a result.

The Inclusion Blueprint declares in the press release that it “provides a roadmap or ‘blueprint’ of actions firms can take to continue to invest in their diverse talent.” Actions such as active monitoring of “work allocation, leave, sponsorship, client pitches, and other critical development and advancement opportunities, to ensure that all lawyers have fair and equal access to career growth.”

Results

Ready for the results? As shown in the 2019 Inclusion Blueprint Report, more than 70 Am Law 200 firms participated in the 2019 launch of the Inclusion Blueprint. The top-scoring 13 firms earned the honor of “Inclusion Blueprint Champion,” and the top 3 firms with the highest scores in female representation and inclusion activities, at both the leadership and IP practice group levels, were included on the ChIPs Honor Roll.

Among the roughly 70 firms that participated in the 2019 launch, encouraging results were found regarding historically underrepresented lawyers:

  • 63% of [the participating] firms increased the representation of female equity partners over the past year.
  • 54% increased the representation of racial or ethnic minority equity partners; and
  • 27% increased the representation of LGBTQ+ equity partners.

However, Diversity Lab’s interpretation of the results (in the January 2020 press release discussed above) pointed out:

Despite this progress, inclusion metrics for historically underrepresented lawyers continue to fall short, and there are inconsistencies and gaps in their access to opportunities, including:

  • Law firms [were] not consistently tracking opportunities to ensure equal access to career-enhancing work, people, and other opportunities for women, racial and ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ lawyers.
  • There [were] fewer opportunities that [were] tracked for LGBTQ+ attorneys compared with women and racial and ethnic minorities.
  • The least tracked opportunities at the leadership level for historically underrepresented attorneys [were] non-billable activities, origination credit, and pay equity.
  • At the practice group level, the least tracked activities [were] first-chair responsibilities, origination credit, and sponsorship relationships. Succession planning and work experiences are often not tracked as well.

Either way, the Inclusion Blueprint can provide a fresh take to assessing, addressing, and investing in equal access, and equal experiences, for all attorneys in law firms.

As for the 2020 Inclusion Blueprint Report, Hichman explained that

2020 was a challenging year, to say the least. With the pandemic, we delayed the release to allow law firms to acclimate to the new normal. Then, in May, when George Floyd was murdered followed by protests and violence, we spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve the survey and added the ‘Do Something Hard’ section, which challenges law firm leadership and practice groups to take hard, meaningful actions and measure their progress to ensure equality for all lawyers.

What Is the ABA 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge?

Take a pause and answer a question. “I practiced the law, I practically perfected it. I’ve seen injustice in the world, and I’ve corrected it.” Are these more lyrics from Hamilton or actual statements made by attorneys? The answer: More Hamilton lyrics. However, here is how use of the Inclusion Blueprint and the ABA-Wide 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge may help change this answer to “both.”

Law firms may increase diversity and inclusion practices, but understanding the diverse talent they bring in is another element to building retention. The 21-Day Challenge explains itself as a concept conceived several years ago by diversity expert Eddie Moore Jr. that presents an invitation to complete a syllabus of 21 short assignments (typically taking 15–30 minutes) consisting of readings, videos, and podcasts over the duration of 21 consecutive days.

The 21-Day Challenge states that assignments have been “intentionally crafted to focus on the Black American experience” and “seek to expose participants to perspectives on elements of Black history, identity and culture, and to the Black community’s experience of racism in America.” Though there is a focus on Black history, a wealth of content is included in the 21-Day Challenge that addresses a wide range of diversity and inclusion practices applicable to various diverse and traditionally underrepresented groups.

Increasing Diversity and Inclusion in IP

One of the readings assigned in the February 2021 Challenge was “Diversifying Intellectual Property Law: Why Women of Color Remain ‘Invisible’ and How to Provide More Seats at the Table,” published in the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law’s Landslide magazine (Mar./Apr. 2018). In the article, authors J. Shontavia Johnson, Tonya M. Evans, and Yolanda M. King explore the statistical showing of a lack of women of color in IP fields, why IP fields need women of color, how to intentionally and effectively increase women of color in IP fields, and more.

The 21-Day Challenge includes discussion questions participants can answer together each day, tailored specifically to the content viewed on that particular day. Furthermore, additional diversity and racial equity resources are provided by various ABA sections, groups, and forums to supplement the 21-Day Challenge, including the ABA Litigation Section’s Resources on Racial and Social Justice, which the Section says is “an array of content and resources on racial and social justice, inequality, criminal justice, pro bono representation, and related issues.”

Be Sure to Include Inclusion

Ready to use the Inclusion Blueprint and complete the ABA-Wide 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge? Great! Whether the need for increased inclusion practices in the legal profession is a revolution, or simply a revelation to most, use of these tools can increase and retain diverse attorneys in the legal profession, especially in the field of IP. All with one common goal, to ensure that everyone feels equal, has equal access, and is presented with equal opportunities to be in “the room where it happens.”

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