Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Law Firms

Culture of Diversity Equity and Inclusion

The values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are increasingly being prioritized by businesses, but the law profession has struggled to keep pace with other industries. In 2021, 85% of all lawyers were white and 63% were men according to the American Bar Association, and these numbers have only changed marginally in the last 10 years. 

This lack of diversity is not only bad for people, it’s bad for business. Consider that workplaces that prioritize DE&I:  

  • Exhibit more engaged and productive employees because employees trust and respect their employers 
  • Find more creative and innovative solutions to problems because there are more unique perspectives voicing opinions 
  • Experience improved employee retention because each employee feels valued and important in the workplace

Diverse and inclusive law firms welcome employees of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and religions and create and environment where they can freely and comfortably communicate issues in the workplace. If you’re ready to implement change at your firm, how do you create a culture of DE&I that actually produces results? Keep these top four tips in mind when making a plan to improve diversity and inclusion at your firm. 

Tip #1: Start with honest reflection at the firm-wide and individual levels 

If you don’t know where you are, you can’t get where you’re going. Creating a company culture that fosters and celebrates diverse employees and opinions starts by recognizing your firm’s current pain points. Where are you falling short? 

Start by looking at your leadership team. For company-wide culture shifts to be successful, leadership needs to be actively engaged. Does your top leadership emulate inclusive behaviors? Do they foster a healthy and collaborative work environment in which junior employees can discuss concerns or share ideas? 

Recognizing your own innate bias is another important step. Bias is, by nature, difficult to recognize, but confronting it starts by challenging your own behaviors. Consider the people you converse with and the media you consume. Do you find yourself surrounded by voices that share your opinions and beliefs on most matters? Confront your unconscious bias toward new thoughts and opinions by intentionally seeking out diverse voices. 

Tip #2: Make measurable DE&I goals 

Overly general DE&I goals are performative and ineffective. Create tangible, measurable goals to actually promote change at your firm. 

Leverage data to identify areas for improvement and set specific goals to address them. For example, examine your firm’s racial profile. Does it match that of your community at large? What about your clients? If the answer to these questions is no, you could set a goal to fill openings with qualified minority candidates and measure it by comparing the change in your firm’s percentage of minority employees over time.  

It’s important to note that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is about more than just hiring people of diverse backgrounds. For example, it’s also important to examine how employees of different races, genders, and sexual orientations are paid or how often they’re promoted. 

For some firms, it may be helpful to have a dedicated DE&I team to analyze current practices and suggest changes. Whether your firm has the resources available to hire experts in diversity and inclusion or not, tangible goals should be set and agreed upon with the entire leadership team.  

Tip #3: Prioritize inclusive recruitment strategies 

Creating a DE&I workplace starts at the top, but change is often executed from the bottom up. If your firm continuously hires homogenous talent, then you’ll never become more diverse. 

To start, train your employees who are responsible for hiring in unconscious bias. Examine your firm’s branding—do you come across as inclusive and equitable in job ads, on your website, or on social media? To source diverse candidates, avoid recruiting solely from T14 law schools—and instead, reach out to law schools with more diverse student bodies or minority legal associations. 

It’s important that all new employees, regardless of their minority status, should embrace your firm’s mission and vision, including your values of diversity and inclusion. By hiring new individuals who share this vision for your firm, you’ll develop these values from within. 

Tip #4: Value communication 

You can’t build a diverse and inclusive workplace without feedback and open lines of communication. After all, an inclusive workplace makes all employees feel that they belong and that their thoughts and opinions have value. 

Create a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing feedback either through focus groups or regular check-ins. Your firm’s progress toward DE&I goals may look different to leadership than it does to junior employees. Both perspectives are important, so it’s imperative to create an environment where both can be comfortably shared. 

Inclusion is a byproduct of building relationships. Prioritize time for the members of your firm to simply get to know their peers. Host teamwide gatherings to help your employees build relationships and share their stories with one another. 

Fostering a culture of DE&I takes work—change doesn’t happen overnight. But prioritizing diverse viewpoints and backgrounds with intentional practices and policies is worth the effort. Firms that prioritize diversity craft more creative solutions for clients and engage and retain valuable employees. 

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