Despite the legal industry’s efforts to enhance diversity in its ranks, it still lags behind many other professions in reflecting the population as a whole.
To illustrate that point, almost half of Brits say they picture someone who works in the legal field as white, according a study by The University of Law. Only 12% said they picture someone who is Black or from another ethnic minority.
And in the U.S., more than 88% of lawyers in the U.S. are white, a worse representation than among architects, engineers, and surgeons, for example. Meanwhile, even though Blacks, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans make up one-third of the U.S. population and one-fifth of law school graduates, they represent just 7% of firm partners and 9% of counsels at large corporations.
So, how can the legal industry, or you as an individual, help to change this norm and drive and support diversity efforts?
Adopt the attitude that diversity in legal is a win
A workforce that is diverse is not only more equitable; it also yields better legal solutions for clients.
The legal industry is client-facing, so having a diverse workforce benefits your firm or corporation in that clients will be able to see that your staff represents the greater population. Diversity of ethnicities, races, ages, sexes, and gender expressions broaden the perspectives and ideas that teams can bring to bear to solve client problems—inspiring creativity and driving innovation. Alternatively, homogenous teams are less able to challenge one another with different views and cultural perspectives.
Ideally, teams should comprise a variety of people from different backgrounds, geographic locations, and experiences to come up with solutions that are well-rounded and well-thought-out for different types of clients.
Target affinity groups when recruiting legal talent
When recruiting legal talent, your firm or corporation can find a more diverse pool of job candidates by connecting with groups and organizations that represent diverse groups in the legal field. For instance, you could forge relationships with affinity associations with attorney memberships from the Black, African-American, LGBTQ+, and Asian-American communities, just to name a few.
Ask your legal talent staffing firm what affinity groups they regularly reach out to, or are involved with. If you handle recruiting in-house at your firm or organization, outreach can be as simple as extending a communication to those groups along with a sincere invitation to connect with their membership.
A good legal staffing organization will proactively go to places where diverse candidates already are, and notify them of upcoming opportunities to provide more intentional targeted recruiting and land you candidates you might otherwise not have gotten.
Look deeper into legal candidates’ job experiences
While law school and GPA rankings are undeniably valuable attributes, digging deeper into an applicant’s story could potentially reveal a good match for your firm or corporation.
Evaluating a resume based on bullet points that meet the specifications for an assignment is one way to select a talented lawyer. But you also can spend some time evaluating how an applicant’s other experiences might translate into a great fit for the job.
For example, consider an applicant’s work history both before and during law school. Although most law school students are discouraged from working full-time jobs while matriculating, some students may maintain full-time jobs while attending a part-time law school program. When evaluating a candidate, consider that this characteristic may demonstrate an applicant’s dedication, tenacity, maturity, or ability to effectively multi-task.
Ask your legal talent provider for diverse legal applicants
We always want to present a well-rounded roster of talent to our clients, but the effort to drive and support diversity becomes even more powerful when our client also understands the importance of recruiting diverse applicants.
When a client clarifies with a talent provider that it expects to see a diverse slate of candidates, this ensures that both parties are working toward the same goal.
Accept discomfort while reaching for diversity in legal
Increasing diversity requires an openness and commitment from the top down, including a financial commitment to assessing needs and implementing changes.
This typically involves analyzing metrics, conducting surveys of employees, and perhaps hiring a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant to help implement changes.
This kind of work requires personal and professional introspection, to reconsider past actions and ways of thinking. It involves asking questions of every leader and every employee in the organization. Any kind of introspective work can feel a little uncomfortable. Be open to and accept the possibility of a little discomfort and commit to pushing past it.
Mentor someone: Legal mentorship matters
American civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman once said: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
In other words, lawyers, especially minorities, can help empower the younger generation to expand what they see as possible by being role models. Consider volunteering to mentor a student or speak at a school or organization that helps introduce the legal field to young minorities.
Mentorships can be formal or informal. Some firms or corporations may have a structured program, that you can participate in. Or, you could start a mentor relationship with a young person at your organization or a young person whom you meet.
There are also outside programs for the legal industry specifically. For example, in Georgia, there is the Justice Robert Benham Law Camp at Georgia State University College of Law that is sponsored by the Gate City Bar Association that exposes high school students to the practice of law. The Leadership Council on Legal Diversity offers a mentoring program to law students in 33 cities across the U.S. Meanwhile, the Law Society of England and Wales developed a mentoring program to help support women and minorities interested in seeking leadership roles at their firm.
There’s much work to be done to ensure the individuals who make up the legal profession reflect the diversity of the general population – but the work is worth doing. Embracing diversity strengthens an organization, adding to its success and ability to deliver sound and diverse legal advice.