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ANALYSIS: Law Firm Diversity—How It’s Going, and a Way Forward

Nov. 1, 2021, 7:01 AM

Last week, Bloomberg Law debuted our DEI Framework, a listing of law firms that meet or exceed an established threshold of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their firm. Standardized disclosure of diversity-related data allows firms to better attract and retain talent, and allows companies looking to procure legal services to easily compare law firms from a supplier diversity standpoint.

Data from this year’s submission process gives some insight into how the legal industry is doing in the DEI space. Spoiler alert … not great. Not terrible, either, but there is definitely room to grow—and we have at least one idea on a way to propel diversity initiatives forward.

Diverse Recruitment Is Working, But Leadership Lags

Bloomberg Law’s DEI Framework is broken into six main pillars:

  • Firm Demographics;
  • Leadership and Talent Pipeline;
  • Recruitment and Retention;
  • Business Innovation and Strategy;
  • Marketing; and
  • Diversity & Inclusion in the Community.

Looking at the overall pillar scores provides a clue into the progress of DEI efforts in law firms. Each pillar is scored from 0–100, with points earned for exceeding industry standards according to publicly available data from the American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement Inc, as well as for endorsing various diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and benefits listed in the survey.

While there is definitely room to improve, the firms that submitted data this year are generally doing well across four of the pillars: recruiting a diverse pool of new attorneys and creating and implementing retention practices; including diversity and inclusion in their business strategies; marketing themselves; and contributing outside of their firms as champions of diversity in their communities. Scores for firm demographics are a bit more dispersed, but overall, firms hover around industry averages for most employee categories.

However, leadership and talent pipeline scores are notably lower. Nine out of 10 top leaders (either CEO or managing partner) are White and 81% of top leaders are male. Of attorneys who lead firm-wide practice groups or departments, 27% are White women, 6% are minority men, 4% are minority women, and the remainder are White men. Leadership is a lagging indicator—it takes an attorney years of building up their personal brand before they are considered for leadership positions. Hopefully, the legal industry will start seeing more diversity in top positions as those attorneys being recruited now receive the support and mentorship they need to meaningfully advance their careers.

Put Your Money Where Your Values Are

Nine out of 10 firms that submitted data for consideration for the DEI Framework listing have a public statement expressing their commitment to diversity and inclusion. And eight out of 10 have a Chief Diversity Officer or equivalent position. This speaks well to firms’ intentions regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, but what really moves the needle? Financial incentives.

Overall, about half of firms that submitted data this year say that their practice group leaders have clear diversity and inclusion goals included as part of their annual performance review, and a similar number of firms say they tie a component of partner compensation to diversity efforts. However, among only the 28 firms who successfully made it onto our 2021 DEI Framework list, those numbers go to up to 61% and 68%, respectively.

Having some monetary link to diversity and inclusion efforts seems to create noticeable change. That said, the law protects all workers from discrimination based on demographic characteristics like race and gender, even if those employees don’t help a company meet its diversity goals. Monetary incentives that are too appealing or poorly tailored can encourage employers to skip the hard work of DEI—better recruiting and retention practices, creating an inclusive and welcoming culture, and providing opportunities—in favor of hiring decisions that are both unfair and illegal. Doing the hard work really is the effort firms should be rewarding, and this effort can help create the kind of work environment where a diverse workforce can thrive.

For more information about the 2021 DEI Framework, including the listing of member firms and overall aggregate report, as well as information on the 2022 DEI Framework timeline, visit pro.bloomberglaw.com/DEI.

Access additional analyses from our Bloomberg Law 2022 series here, including pieces covering trends in Litigation, Transactions & Contracts, Regulatory & Compliance, and the Future of the Legal Industry.

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