Addressing the Lack of Diversity in the Legal Field

Promoting the culture of diversity is important for all professions, but it is especially lacking in the legal field. In fact, the legal profession is among the least diverse professions in the United States.  Diversity and inclusion in the workplace help to identify and embrace different backgrounds and contribute to the overall advancement of the business.

There are several factors that impede the prevalence of diversity in the legal field.  At Harrity, we are dedicated to overcoming these obstacles by providing opportunities for minorities and developing tools for diverse candidates to succeed.  Although the disparity of minorities practicing law, and especially minorities in equity positions, will take time to overcome, it is an obtainable goal if all firms work to address the problem.

Statistics Talk

The industry needs to recognize the importance of creating an unbiased, equal, and harmonious working environment for all legal professionals.  Unfortunately, the lack of diversity is widespread in the legal field, and the numbers show the industry is moving at a slow pace to address the issue.

In 2018, 85% of lawyers in the U.S. were Caucasian, according to the American Bar Association.  Another report on diversity in U.S. law firms found that racially diverse women are the most underrepresented group in the legal profession.  Other diverse groups underrepresented include LGBTQ2+ lawyers, lawyers with disabilities, and Black/African lawyers.

The Challenges in Recruiting Diverse Workforce

While corporate legal departments and law firms are working on more inclusive recruitment and hiring practices, there is still a need to address the lack of diversity.  Many barriers impede the advancement and retention of diverse lawyers in the legal profession.  Some of the factors that contribute to the lack of diversity include in-group favoritism, stereotyping, unconscious biases, and diversity fatigue.

Law firms should regularly participate in diversity training, utilize a diversity consultant, and review their own Diversity & Inclusion policies.  Firms should also consider concepts such as implicit bias, i.e., attributing certain attitudes or associating stereotypes with a person or group of people without our conscious knowledge, and self-assessment bias, in which females and minority groups tend to rate themselves lower on skill-related surveys than white males.

Other factors that contribute to the lack of diversity in the legal field are the socio-economic circumstances that often hinder minority groups, including limited access to quality education and other resources, and the high cost of pursuing a legal degree.  Outreach programs, financial aid, and internal training opportunities targeting low-income families can help legal professionals address this and ensure all demographics have the same access to a legal career path.

Importance of Diversity in the Legal Field

Law firms must welcome a diverse workforce as it promotes mutual respect, acceptance, and co-existence.  It is crucial to formulate new strategies when working in the legal world.  A diverse group of lawyers, with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and skills, can help each other in building strengths and overcoming weaknesses.

Diversity leads to innovative ideas, opinions, and strategies.  It improves the quality of service and ensures that the voice of marginalized groups is also heard.  A female lawyer or black lawyer can highlight the issues of their respective groups better than others.  Diversity helps law firms to adapt accordingly to unprecedented or less familiar situations.  It allows them to respond to diverse clients more effectively.

Above all, diversity and inclusion in the legal field prevent discrimination against skilled and qualified lawyers.  Many reports and studies show that diverse workplaces are more productive and that they have lower turnover compared to non-inclusive workplaces.

Final Word

Harrity & Harrity strongly believes that the practice of law can advance only when there is a diverse legal team.  Our Diversity Mission is to promote a respectful, family-friendly, and diverse culture that recognizes and values the diverse backgrounds, perspectives, experiences, skills, and talents of each member on our team.

In order to provide equal opportunity to all candidates, Harrity developed the Rooney Rule 2.0 with regard to hiring, which is based off of The Rooney Rule.  The Rooney Rule is a National Football League policy that requires league teams to interview one minority candidate for each head coaching and senior football operation job.  According to The Rooney Rule, only one diverse candidate needs to be interviewed, while there could be hundreds or thousands of non-diverse candidates.  The Rooney Rule 2.0 changes that rule to commit to interviewing a female or minority candidate for every male or non-minority candidate we interview for any position at our firm.

The Harrity Diversity Committee has implemented several other initiatives in order to grow and nurture diversity in the IP legal field.  The Minority Firm Incubator helps train, develop, and launch minority-owned patent law firms in an effort to recruit, retain, and advance attorneys who will contribute to the diversity of the patent field.  The annual Women’s Workshop is a free program that introduces female engineers and law students or recent graduates to the practice of patent law with guest speakers, patent skills training, career mentoring, and more.  The Harrity Academyprovides minority candidates with exclusive training and practice materials for drafting high-quality patent applications.

The goal of these programs is to help increase the number of diverse candidates applying to positions within Harrity and the legal field, help improve skillsets and the likelihood that these candidates will succeed in the interview process, and encourage upward movement for minorities within their firms.

If more firms commit to implementing a comprehensive diversity plan, together, we can help bridge the gap by eliminating biases and encouraging diversity within the legal community.  It is vital that the hiring process focuses only on required skillsets and qualifications, regardless of gender, color, race, or religion, and that steps are taken to reduce discrimination and give minorities the opportunity to succeed.

If you are interested in reading the 2018/2019 Harrity Annual Diversity Report, it can be found here.  For more information regarding Harrity’s diversity initiatives, visit harrityllp.com/diversity.

 

Elaine Spector
AUTHOR

Elaine Spector

Elaine Spector is a Partner at Harrity & Harrity, LLP, a boutique firm specializing in intellectual property law. Her practice focuses primarily on the prosecution of patent applications, specifically within electromechanical technologies. Elaine is a driving force in the firm’s diversity and charity initiatives and serves on several committees and boards in relation, including AIPLA’s Women in IP Law’s Global Networking Event & Outreach Subcommittee, IPO’S Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and the non-profit No More Stolen Childhoods.