CHICAGO -- Is the business case for diversity making a difference in how corporate legal work is being assigned to outside counsel? Are there meaningful incentives in place to foster diversity and inclusion? Are law firms finding value in building a diverse workplace? Are there real opportunities for diverse lawyers? Why has the legal profession lagged behind in achieving true diversity and what steps can it take to make inclusion a reality?
New data resulting from a large study of corporations, law firms and diverse partners in law firms by the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession suggest that there is still a long way to go to make the legal profession inclusive through the full integration of diverse lawyers and law firms into the corporate legal marketplace. The report shows that while a business case for diversity has been in place for more than 20 years, it falls short of providing an environment for achieving the economic and social results that reflect career sustainability, viability and success for meaningful numbers of diverse lawyers.
"The profession has sought solutions and increasingly focused on diversity and inclusion, and it is important to acknowledge that we have made much progress. Equally important, however, is the fact that we must acknowledge that there is a measurable level of frustration, and even skepticism, about the pace – and the possibility – of significant change in key areas of measurement," said Marc S. Firestone, chair of IILP and executive vice president, corporate and legal affairs, and general counsel, Kraft Foods, Inc. "Our findings show that diverse lawyers are disappointed with progress and law firms are finding that their diversity efforts are not a clear priority when dealing with corporate clients."
Respondents included 52 Fortune 500 corporate law departments, 391 law firms and 1,032 diverse lawyers. It is the first study that provides actual, rather than anecdotal, data about the impact and effectiveness of the business case for diversity and to gauge the legal profession's progress in fostering diversity as a factor in the assignment of work to outside counsel. The report, supported by the Association for Legal Administrators, was conducted between August and December 2010.
Analysis of the results confirms the IILP's premise that while the business case for diversity exists, understanding what it means and what it can accomplish differs across interested groups. There is too little communication of the goals and the need for diversity in generating business and meaningful progress.
"The IILP is committed to studying and promoting change and helping the profession meet its commitment to reflect society. A diverse and welcoming profession is our goal and we are taking steps to see where we have been, where we are and what we must do going forward to make inclusion a reality," said IILP Chief Executive Officer Sandra S. Yamate.
The report recommends action for both corporations and law firms to help make the business case for diversity more effective. It shows the importance of timely data and better analysis in decision-making and points to the need for policies fostering inclusion that have the full support of management – both in the executive suite and in law firms – leading to more meaningful leadership opportunities for diverse lawyers and their full engagement in professional development and networking.