Bilzin Sumberg recently purchased a piece of art—a paint-by-numbers design that represents how the contributions of different people from different backgrounds can come together to create something new and amazing.
Today, it hangs in our office and is a constant reminder of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion both within our firm and outside of our walls.
Law firms should think outside the box when it comes to advancing the goals of DEI beyond press or social media releases and one-off internal programs. Law firms can also champion equitable legislation, partner with different organizations to support their DEI missions, foster pipeline initiatives to build a more inclusive legal profession that reflects the richness of our communities, and provide pro bono legal services.
A creative and multifaceted approach to DEI is more rewarding within a firm, and can also result in more visible progress externally in the legal profession and community.
Where to Begin
DEI should be viewed as a process of enrichment and uniting people from all backgrounds, rather than a simple ideology or box to check. So, a good place for firms to start is by forming a committee of a diverse group of attorneys and staff, and, importantly, firm executive leadership, who together can provide a holistic view of what DEI means and its priority within the firm.
As part of any firm’s DEI efforts, a key step is developing a mission statement and overall set of goals by which the firm can align initiatives and measure their results.
For example, at Bilzin Sumberg, our DEI strategy is broken down into strategic partnerships, recruiting and diversity pipeline, professional development and inclusive workplace, and commitment to social justice. These pillars are emphasized in different ways across our firm.
Variety of Programming
Curating year-round, thought-provoking programming centered on DEI-related themes can lead to thoughtful discussion and bring awareness to topical issues impacting the community or legal profession.
To paint the picture, below are a variety of initiatives that can serve as a template for other firms looking for new ways to start conversations about DEI.
Culture and Cuisine. Have fun and create programs that celebrate different cultures through creative mediums including food, art, and music. For example, during Hispanic Heritage Month, plan a series of afternoon snack breaks or lunches featuring traditional foods from Hispanic countries with the goal of raising awareness of the diversity of the Hispanic community.
Speaker Programs. Organize panel discussions and events with community leaders from various backgrounds who are open to sharing their insights on timely issues, such as state/local history, or equity and social justice.
Networking Events. Partner with local universities, affinity groups, and diverse organizations to host networking events or other organized gatherings to allow firm attorneys and staff to meet and engage with other persons in the community and build mutually valuable connections.
Pro Bono Work. Encourage employees to engage in pro bono work within underserved communities, and help provide resources to address historical disenfranchisement across a range of sectors and industries.
Take Time to Review
At the end of each year, it’s important for firms to take a step back and review their DEI initiatives from the previous year, analyzing the results of each initiative against their DEI committee’s mission statement and any established goals or benchmarks.
This gives firms the opportunity to reflect on the things that worked—i.e., had the greatest impact on staff and attorneys and/or community partners. Consider what did not work and why, and plan for where you want to go and how to improve from there.
Our Own Blind Spots
Law firms looking to incorporate or begin similar programming must understand that successful initiatives start with the understanding that everyone has blind spots. That is why engaging a diverse team of contributors to help develop ideas and plan initiatives is so important, because they help identify potential blind spots.
Along those lines, and in line with taking time to review their efforts, firms should conduct post-program assessments for each initiative to determine what did or did not work. This can be done through attendee surveys followed by a committee discussion to review what participants took away and what can be approved upon for next time.
The legal profession still has a long way to go to reach the ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion that we envision as part of our professional success. There continue to be challenges, old and new, in our industry. My hope is that more firms take pride in making progress across demographics and identities, in turn making our profession and community more equitable and inclusive.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Adrian Felix is chair of Miami-based commercial law firm Bilzin Sumberg’s diversity, equity, and inclusion Committee.