As we celebrate Black History Month, which has been celebrated since 1926, it is hard to believe there is still a need to convince law firm partners and managers about the importance of diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI). The legal profession remains the least diverse of all other professions. Now is the time for change, and it is also a time for law firms to embrace and implement DEI within their firm’s culture. The US Census Bureau forecasts that by 2045, our country will be comprised of a more racially and ethnically diverse population. As such, a more diverse population means that law firms must recruit with the intention of creating a workforce that accurately reflects the world we will soon all inhabit. Some law firms have realized the importance of changing the look of their workforce, but a vast majority of firms still continue to struggle to understand why diversity is so important.
Diversity within law firms and our judicial system is not only important because it is morally correct; There is a strong financial incentive for firms to expand their pool of attorneys from varying backgrounds. According to the 2021 ABA National Lawyer Population Survey, African American lawyers make up about 4.7% of the US lawyer population. While this number may appear low, this survey’s data emphasizes the trend noted by the US Census Bureau’s numbers that our country and also the legal profession is becoming more diverse. As a signal from clients wanting more diversity, law firms around the country have found some clients are specifically requesting African American attorneys to be assigned to their case(s). By failing to meet today’s diversity standards, firms can miss out on new client opportunities, possibly losing out before ever being considered.
There will always be fears associated with hiring a workforce comprised of individuals with a range of characteristics such as gender, religion, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. The incumbent bias that cause firm management to default to hiring decisions where they only Interview candidates from familiar schools, racial, and gender backgrounds only perpetuate low diversity that will negatively impact their business’ future growth.
To combat incumbent bias and diversity at your law firm, consider the following benefits integrating DEI:
- Cultural Sensitivity: A diverse range of cultures within the workplace can help bring new ideas and perspectives to your firm. Working on a case with people with different backgrounds can ensure your firm is being culturally sensitive.
- Creativity: A diverse workforce allows for more great ideas. Collaborative ideas can be shared and influenced by life experiences, which helps bring new ideas and a way of thinking creatively.
- Marketing Opportunities: Highlight diversity on your website. Potential clients or new employees will find the firm relatable if it represents a diverse workplace. Showing potential clients and/or candidates that you value and respect those with diverse backgrounds, may entice the client to hire you and the potential candidate to apply to your firm.
- Reputation: Firms that have a diverse workplace can be perceived as a favorable employer to work for.
The benefit of diversification may be making its way to your firm. As some firms struggle to increase their workforce diversity, they can also be resisting change. The change is positive and should be encouraged. Do not be afraid to diversify your firm. A lack of diversity can cause a financial risk for firms that fail to comply. Firms that do not prioritize diversity may struggle to attract and retain talent, while the others who consider diversity and inclusion are seeing the long-term impact on their attorneys’ and staff performance. When it comes to diversity in the workplace, there is room for everyone. People from different backgrounds and experiences can help your firm’s success and ensure that the office environment is respectful.
The lack of diversity in law firms has been a long-standing problem. From a personal perspective, and after working for four different law firms, I can attest to the validity of the statistics stated above about the percentage of African American attorneys in American law firms. Griesing Law has pushed the envelope with hiring diverse talent, and this job is my first experience working with African American attorneys. I can also say that seeing other individuals of color in high professional positions within the firm has been an inspiring and affirming experience for me. At Griesing, I do not have the feeling of being an outsider or not belonging.
By changing the trajectory, the leadership of law firms can step up their efforts and take a strategic approach at creating more opportunities for people of color and influence other firms to hire and create a diverse and inclusive culture.
Rasheda Stewart is human resources and operations manager of Griesing Law, where she focuses on the firm’s efficient and effective operation and on developing strategic plans for future practice and operational needs. In addition to her role at the firm, Stewart is on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators and a member of both Society of Human Resources Management and Delaware Society for Human Resources Management. Contact her at 215-501-7849 or [email protected].