YourABA: June 2013
YourABA September 2013 Masthead

Law firm leaders explore what millennial lawyers think about diversity and inclusion

Law firms that don't develop diversity and inclusion programs are more likely to miss out on the new generation of lawyers, said a panel of experts at the program “What Effective Law Firms Need to Know about Diversity and Inclusion” during the Annual Meeting.

“Baby boomer lawyers will retire in the next decade,” said Susan Kostal, with the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. “This can become the biggest opportunity or the largest miss for the legal profession.”

The program, sponsored by the ABA Law Practice Management Section, focused on society's shift about diversity and inclusion and how it applies to millennial lawyers. Panelists addressed how younger generations of lawyers perceive diversity as a form of self-expression, flexibility and ways to process information versus senior lawyers, who tend to think of it as gender, skin color and ethnicity.

Paula Boggs, board director for Sterling Financial Corp., indicated that the current law firm model is perceived as too rigid and conservative by young lawyers, who prefer to embrace innovation and flexibility in the workplace.

“Young people want to work in diverse environments,” Boggs said. “The pool of people who want to work under the current law firm model is less. Firms that don't figure out how to create a diverse and inclusive environment are more likely to lose new talent.”

Diversity is key to getting and keeping business as well, said Dennis Archer, chair emeritus of Dickinson Wright and former ABA president. “Firms without diversity and inclusion programs lose business,” Archer said.

Panelists agreed that diversity should be viewed as an integral component of effective representation and essential in preserving the integrity of the profession.

“Inclusion has to come within the law firm,” added Linda Klein, managing shareholder of Baker Donelson's Georgia offices. “A more diverse team provides better results.”

She encouraged law firms to create committees to find and promote diversity and inclusion opportunities in their firms to avoid brain drain.

“Find problems before they even start … don't lose [young] lawyers because they are unhappy,” Klein said.

What firms need to know about diversity
and inclusion:

  • Avoid brain drain. Create committees within your law firm that promote diversity and inclusion opportunities.
  • Know that diversity means business. View diversity as a form of business development that, with time, becomes strategic business-building opportunities.
  • Think outside the box and grow the talent wherever it comes from. Standardized measures like average scores do not capture talent; recruit based on skills, strengths and life experiences.
  • Promote cross-racial and cross-gender mentoring.

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