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ANALYSIS: How ILTACON’s DEI Strategies Help Retain Legal Talent

Sept. 15, 2022, 9:00 AM

The first two installments of our three-part series highlighting the key takeaways from ILTACON 2022 discussed how law firms and legal departments can leverage data and manage change in their practices to drive innovation. Talent retention was another major theme at the conference—specifically, the importance of providing more inclusive professional development opportunities and DEI initiatives at legal organizations.

Talent retention has been a hot topic lately throughout the legal industry, with first-year pay wars, attorney lateral moves, and the Great Resignation fueling these conversations.

But talent retention issues, at least in part, are likely driven by the lack of inclusive training opportunities and DEI initiatives at legal organizations, ILTACON panelists said. Even though many firms and legal departments are at least talking about these two topics, there are still great strides that need to be made.

We synthesized the ideas presented on DEI at the conference to provide the following three tips for firms and legal departments to improve upon the DEI initiatives and professional development offerings at their organizations. Implementing these strategies can help organizations create more inclusive and diverse environments to better attract and retain a diverse talent base.

1. Don’t Forget the ‘E’ and ‘I’ in DEI.

Law firms and legal departments have taken steps to diversify their organizations over the last few years. But the focus has been on getting diverse employees through the door, while equity and inclusion haven’t received as much attention—likely impacting employee turnover and retention.

During a discussion of how technology can drive DEI, one panelist stressed how important it is for firms and legal departments to retain diverse employees. “If you do not have diverse talent, you do not have top talent,” said Dr. Juliet Aiken, chief science officer at Thine, a modern legal recruiting organization.

To take DEI to the next level, assess who is present and what their experience is, said panelist Kimberly Hulsey, chief diversity & inclusion officer at Locke Lord. Hulsey’s point is that equity and inclusion have to be part of the equation.

And equity isn’t the same as equality. Equity allocates resources based on the needs of the individual, whereas equality gives everyone the same resources, despite individual needs. With that in mind, assessing the individual experience of employees might include reviewing the types of assignments they’re receiving—particularly whether the work is substantive and thought-provoking—and what resources are being allocated to them.

To retain top, diverse talent, firms and legal departments must ensure that their employees are receiving quality work assignments and the resources that best address their needs—not just receiving what everyone else is getting. Organizations should also create safe spaces for employees to discuss specific needs to ensure that resources are being allocated equitably.

2. Provide Inclusive Training Opportunities.

As mentioned above, to retain diverse talent, organizations need to ensure that they’re allocating the proper resources to each of their employees. The process starts right away: Understand the specific needs of each new hire in order to foster an inclusive work environment that allows for every employee to thrive. These assessments should continue throughout an employee’s career, as their needs may change over time.

Inclusive training and professional development opportunities that help with career advancement are additional incentives for retaining diverse talent. Providing such career growth opportunities—when offered equitably across the organization—provides a big incentive for employees to stay.

During a session on making training more inclusive for diverse learners, panelists noted that a healthy workplace culture includes training opportunities for all types of employees—with a specific focus on those that are neurodiverse—which can ultimately help to retain talent.

The panelists further narrowed in on some ways that organizations can make their trainings more inclusive:

  • Determine how to reach users in the most efficient and beneficial way.
  • Provide accessibility options (these can be physical modifications or content-based as discussed below).
  • Ensure that every user feels welcome and enthusiastic about the experience.

An additional point the panelists touched upon was ensuring that the content included in training materials is accessible to all. Content is only accessible when it is perceivable, operable, and understandable.

3. Report DEI Data Completely.

A final piece of advice the panelists offered was to report and assess diversity data at a granular level, rather than by merging multiple groups.

For example, a firm or legal department may advertise that their organization is 25% diverse, but what does that actually mean? What categories make up that 25%, and what roles do those employees have?

Diversity can encompass many factors that make an individual unique—race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, and more—and the data should accurately reflect that. It’s equally as important for firms to be transparent about the roles and the titles that diverse employees hold. If diverse characteristics aren’t represented throughout the entire organization, especially in top-level positions, it’s unlikely that the organization will be able to retain diverse talent.

Overall, in order to retain top talent at firms and legal departments, focusing on these three steps and ensuring that organizations foster an inclusive, equitable, and diverse environment will help employees grow and ultimately stay with them.

Review our 2022 DEI Framework Report here (for subscribers) and here (for non-subscribers).

Related content is available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Beingpage. Bloomberg Law Subscribers can find related content on our Legal Operations, In Focus: Legal Technology, and In Focus: Lawyer Development resources.

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