Bloomberg Law released its second annual DEI Framework today, which saw submissions increase by approximately 50% over last year, showing just how significant DEI efforts are becoming in the legal industry.
The DEI Framework is a listing of 43 US-based law firms that meet or exceed an established threshold for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Participation allows firms to benchmark their progress year to year, and also allows in-house counsel to begin their outside counsel selection process with a list of firms they know are prioritizing DEI.
The data also allow us to track trends and movement in DEI throughout the legal industry. The numbers give us a good idea of where the industry now stands, and where it may be headed.
We added several new questions this year, including one on origination credit, based on feedback from industry leaders that delve even deeper into the “E” and the “I” of DEI.
But First, Some Background
The 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 gives 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, as well as for endorsing various diversity and inclusion policies and benefits.
While there’s definitely room to improve, especially in diversity at the top levels, the firms that submitted data this year are generally performing above industry averages in these areas:
- recruiting diverse new attorneys,
- creating and implementing retention practices,
- including diversity and inclusion in their business strategies, and
- marketing themselves as champions of diversity in their communities.
Many scores—both for individual firms and in aggregate —have increased a bit this year. This could indicate that there’s some change taking place in the industry, but it might also simply be the result of the larger pool of submissions.
D: Law Firm Diversity
Diversity can be broadly defined as variation within a group, and when talking about groups of people, diversity can encompass race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, lived experiences, and many other factors that make each individual unique.
For the purposes of the DEI Framework, we look at generally underrepresented groups, which in the legal profession are historically comprised of anyone who doesn’t identify as a white male.
Law firms continue to be populated mostly with white attorneys: Lawyers that identify as white make up 87% of all partners and 70% of all associates, according to this year’s data. The next most represented demographic is Asian Americans, who make up 4% of partners and 11% of associates, followed by Black attorneys, who make up under 3% of partners and 6% of associates.
There’s a bit more parity when it comes to gender, with women making up 29% of partners and 51% of associates, the framework shows. The fact that there’s more diversity at the associate level hints that changes at the partner level may be coming, although this is a complicated issue and has been for some time. Recruiting diverse attorneys and retaining them are two entirely different things, bringing us to the “E” and the “I” of DEI.
E: Promoting Equity in Law Firms
In last year’s inaugural DEI Framework, we noted that firms that made the DEI Framework list were more likely to track several specific metrics that impact matter diversity, including diversity among client relationship partners, the work experiences diverse attorneys receive, and the amount of direct client interactions diverse attorneys receive.
This year, we came right out and asked about origination credit. This was a differentiating factor for firms that made the 2022 DEI Framework list—44% of those firms currently track origination credit for diverse attorneys, and 30% have a strategic improvement plan. The firms that didn’t make the list scored 20% on both metrics.
No matter how many work experiences or client interactions an attorney receives, if they don’t receive origination credit, they’re not gaining equity.
Inclusion and belonging are key to retaining talent, especially among underrepresented groups. This year, we added a couple of questions to the DEI Framework data collection survey to dig into how firms are creating spaces for these groups, and how the law firms are rewarding those attorneys who contribute to this effort.
Overall, about six out of 10 member law firms have employee resource or affinity groups for historically underrepresented groups, according to the framework results.
Taking it a level deeper: Affinity groups are a key element in creating a sense of inclusion and belonging, so how are firms implementing this effort?
Of the firms with affinity groups, approximately 85% of the groups have their own budget. That’s a start. The leaders of these groups are typically volunteers, and only 43% receive billable hour credit for their leadership role. Lawyers that do get billable hour credit typically receive about the same or more credit as they would for pro bono work (64% said about the same, 29% receive more).
What we’ve seen from the 2022 DEI Framework data is that there’s still a long road ahead to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion for all attorneys, but that there are some firms that are moving the needle. That is very encouraging!
For more information about the 2022 DEI Framework, including the listing of member firms and overall aggregate report, as well as information on the 2023 DEI Framework timeline, click here.
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