Despite increased attention on the legal industry’s lack of diversity in the last decade or two, the profession is still dominated by White men, particularly in leadership roles. This fact has implications beyond equity, because law firms that aren’t diverse put their long-term profitability at risk.
More and more organizations are demanding to work with diverse legal groups. In fact, large companies like Facebook, HP, and Novartis are pressuring the law firms they hire to improve diversity by threatening to cut fees or take their business elsewhere. Why? Because clients know that diverse teams perform better.
According to the American Bar Association, “A diverse legal profession is more just, productive and intelligent because diversity, both cognitive and cultural, often leads to better questions, analyses, solutions, and processes.” Diversity alone doesn’t drive results, but diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) combined are powerful agents of change. In order to better serve clients, attract and retain talented attorneys, and foster outstanding workplaces, law firms have to be intentional and strategic about their DEI efforts.
Why is Diversity Important in the Legal Profession?
Aside from creating a more just and equitable society, DEI is good for business. Myriad statistics detail how DEI boosts revenue, profits, and problem-solving, however firms should consider these four primary benefits.
- DEI increases a firm’s competitive advantage. Many organizations consider supplier diversity and want to work with firms that are diverse. Individual clients want to work with firms that serve them best, whether that means hiring a Spanish-speaking attorney or a firm with strong women representation. Firms with advanced DEI enhance their reputation and broaden their client base.
- DEI leads to improved performance and productivity. When people feel that they belong, they are more likely to show up and do their best work. In fact, just a 10% improvement in perceptions of inclusion increases attendance by about one day per year per employee.
- DEI improves recruitment and retention. Over 86% of job seekers say workplace diversity is a factor when looking for a job, and workplaces that prioritize DEI have higher retention rates. Feelings of inclusion and belonging attract candidates and encourage current employees to stick around.
- Diverse firms experience increased innovation. Diversity of thought leads to new ways of thinking, leading to enhanced problem-solving and creativity.
But for firms to realize these benefits, leadership needs to do more than put out a DEI statement. Firms must have authentically inclusive cultures. To achieve that, firms must be aware of the systemic barriers and cultural norms that lawyers from underrepresented groups must overcome, and leaders must act intentionally to counter these exclusionary practices and policies.