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Diversity and Inclusion in Law, By Design

May 16, 2018, 7:35 PM

Envision a large group of senior law firm partners and legal department leaders who have been introduced hours before, wielding colorful dry-erase markers to draw a stick figure who represents the “end user” as part of a diversity and inclusion design thinking exercise. Vibrant discussion of these end users (i.e., all lawyers, minority and majority) and the need to dismantle outdated recruitment and advancement practices to achieve true inclusion fills the room. It may seem a bit far-fetched, but this scenario played out exactly as described at the recent 2018 Diversity in Law Hackathon Kick-Off hosted by Harvard Law School Executive Education in partnership with Bloomberg Law. How did this come about?

As background, the Hackathon series emerged as a new way to leverage lawyers’ minds, teamwork, and design thinking principles to tackle law’s toughest diversity challenges. Over the last two decades, law firms, affinity groups, minority bar associations, and other stakeholders have all introduced promising programming aimed at clearing the way for women and lawyers of color to achieve full representation at the highest levels of the legal profession.

Unfortunately, many of the programs and initiatives deployed by law firms and legal departments haven’t produced much progress. Women still make up only about 19% of equity partners in law firms, and law is one of the whitest professions.

In 2016, Diversity Lab borrowed a concept from the tech industry and launched the inaugural Women in Law Hackathon, asking 54 high-level law firm partners, diversity advisors, and Stanford Law School students to hack solutions to gender equity in the law. The solutions were presented in an event sponsored by Bloomberg Law and held at Stanford Law School, and they outdid expectations. Five ideas from this hackathon, including the Mansfield Rule, are currently being piloted by an alliance of 44 law firms with support from more than 70 legal departments.

Earlier this year, Diversity Lab launched the next iteration of this series to build on the momentum of innovation and community that started with the Women in Law Hackathon. The 2018 Diversity in Law Hackathon is designed to address the topic of diversity and inclusion more broadly, including issues faced by lawyers of color and LGBT lawyers, and the need to more effectively enlist men and the majority as allies. In addition, the 2018 Hackathons include legal department leaders from companies such as Google, American Express, and 3M, in addition to law firm partners as members of the teams.

In February, 45 of these legal leaders gathered at Harvard Law School’s Executive Education headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts to kick off this year’s first Hackathon with a meaningful mix of learning, innovation, teamwork, and opportunities to connect. “One thing we learned from our Women in Law Hackathon hackers was that a substantive in-person kick-off would accelerate the team connection process and allow us educate the hackers on design thinking principles in a live, interactive workshop,” said Caren Ulrich Stacy, the creator of the Women in Law Hackathon and Diversity Lab’s Founder and CEO.

During the Kick-Off, the hackers reviewed their personality types using the TypeCoach program to ground their work in a solid understanding of the individual personalities and work styles represented on their teams. Led by Scott Westfahl, professor and the faculty director of HLS Executive Education, they also engaged in a hands-on design thinking experiment, a focus on the human end-user who would be affected by the teams’ diversity and inclusion solutions.

Each team of lawyers even created a realistic, hypothetical “person” – complete with the hand-drawn “avatar” mentioned above – and brainstormed about how their solutions could best serve that person’s needs. The teams sketched prototypes focusing on fixing outdated or broken organizational systems. They also heard from Harvard engineering professor and design expert Beth Altringer on how other professions use design thinking and behavioral design to solve tough challenges in unexpected ways.

Having learned new ways of innovating, the lawyers are working in teams to develop innovative ideas to solve some of law’s most pressing diversity and inclusion challenges. The teams are “hacking” specific topics within the umbrella of diversity and inclusion, such as ensuring equitable access opportunities or developing more sophisticated metrics to track diversity and inclusion progress.

The teams – each with a Harvard Law School student member – are also guided by a group of specially selected advisors, including Gabrielle Lyse Brown, director of diversity & inclusion, New York City Bar Association; Maja Hazell, global director of diversity & inclusion, White & Case; Jami de Lou, diversity & inclusion lead, Boston Consulting Group; and Jay Benegal, legal industry specialist, Citizens Financial Group.

Ultimately, they will pitch their ideas “Shark Tank” style in June at Harvard Law School to a group of distinguished judges, including Ellen McGirt from Fortune; Willie Hernandez, deputy GC at HPE; Therese Pritchard, co-chair of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner; Megha Parekh, vice president and GC for the Jacksonville Jaguars; and U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Sleet of the District of Delaware.

If the kick-off is any indication, the legal world should get ready to test some truly innovative – and thoughtfully designed – solutions to law’s persistent diversity and inclusion challenges.