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ANALYSIS: Client Inquiries Aren’t Enough for Diverse Legal Teams

June 21, 2022, 9:00 AM

It’s not a revelation that the legal community is plagued with a resounding diversity problem. A recent ABA survey found that even though the number of attorneys went up 6.6.% in the last 10 years, the percentage of Black attorneys remained the same, and Hispanic and Asian attorneys saw only marginal increases.

But the legal community’s DEI problem obviously does not stop there. The idea that clients can be a driving force for law firm diversity has been touted for a number of years, but this effort may not be as successful as hoped. A recent Bloomberg Law survey indicates that a strikingly low percentage of clients are pressing law firms about diversity requirements in their legal teams. And in March, Coca-Cola stopped mandating at least 30% diversity in its legal representation on new matters, stoking concern that other companies could follow suit.

In Bloomberg Law’s 2022 State of Practice survey, nearly two-thirds of law firm attorneys surveyed (65%) said they haven’t had a client inquire about or mandate diverse legal representation in the last year. And only 9% reported that all or most of their clients mandated diversity requirements for their legal representation.

The survey results suggest that client-initiated diversity requirements are simply not enough of a driving force to improve the law firm diversity problem. So where can we look for other change catalysts?

Shareholders Could Promote Diverse Legal Teams

Clients’ shareholders could explore supplementing diversity efforts with a significant corporate change-making tool: shareholder proposals.

Effective DEI policies should address diversity issues in both corporate in-house legal departments and outside counsel—and shareholders could play an instrumental role in shaping diversity efforts in both arenas.

Shareholders pushing for racial equity audits, for example, may explicitly include in their proposals a request for data regarding diversity of the corporation’s in-house legal team and outside counsel from an independent auditor or law firm. This information should include a breakdown of diversity and leadership roles.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our ESG Practice, Practical Guidance: Shareholders, Practical Guidance: DEI, and Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis pages.

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