The legal profession has not appropriately represented the whole population for far too long. Thankfully, that’s changing. For the past several years, women have outnumbered men in law school classrooms. But gender diversity is only the beginning.
These stats show the importance of diversity and inclusion in your law firm. By failing to take action, you’re ignoring your clients’ and team members’ needs for safety and feeling welcome. Your firm must have a stance on the values of inclusion and how you plan to implement them into marketing, hiring, and client service.
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Defining Law Firm Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity refers to the individuality of people. For example, race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and age are all factors in diversity. Inclusion means that all these individuals, regardless of their differences, are accepted and respected.
Inclusion goes deeper than racial or ethnic differences, however. It also means recognizing concepts such as disabilities, communication styles, religious beliefs, and more. To be inclusive as a law firm, you must accept individual clients and team members for who they are from the inside out.
Diversity and Inclusion Best Practices
It’s past time for law firms to consider what being inclusive means for their firms. As a lawyer, you must be more cognizant of this shifting landscape and what this means for your team and clients. You must adapt your marketing, strategy, and legal services, as necessary, to accommodate for better law firm diversity.
Make Inclusivity a Law Firm Value
At Lawyerist, we believe issues of inclusion must be a part of the conversation about your firm values. Your values are what drive your firm forward. They’re the key factors in the decisions you make such as whether or not to take on a case or who to hire next for your team. Inclusivity must be part of your values to ensure it’s a part of your firm’s culture.
As you live that value, you’ll keep inclusivity practices top of mind. When you create job postings, you’ll emphasize it. When you redesign your website, you’ll use stock photos showcasing diversity. Every move you make will have inclusivity as a motivating factor. Deciding how to address law firm diversity should be part of your ongoing strategy.
Meet (or Exceed) Modern Accessibility Standards
As mentioned above, one in every four US adults has a disability that interferes with daily life. It’s important to remember that disabilities come in many forms. For example, hearing, vision, thinking, movement, communication, and mental health all qualify according to modern accessibility standards.
What is accessibility? It’s making every aspect of your law firm as easily accessible as possible for all. You must consider everything about your law firm, from your website to your office space.
There are many resources available to help you enhance your firm’s accessibility, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and the American Bar Association’s resources. If you have a physical office space, you should also ensure you’re ADA compliant.
You must think differently about inclusivity to truly grasp its importance. Consider this: those who we often treat as “others” without even knowing them are the same as us. We all have backgrounds and unique views about the world. What makes yours any better than anyone else’s? And, although you may have the abilities you do now, that doesn’t mean you’ll always have those same abilities.
It’s time to make a serious effort to put yourself in different shoes. If you were to lose your eyesight tomorrow, how would that change the way you do business? If you were to become paralyzed from the waist-down tomorrow, how would it change your expectations of other businesses? Take what you discover and make positive changes within your firm for improved law firm diversity.
Work to Improve Access to Justice
We believe it’s up to each law firm to help improve access to justice for all who require the support of the justice system. Access to justice is one of the most troubling issues stemming from diversity.
It isn’t simply about lowering your fees. It’s about communicating value, so your potential clients feel like their investment is worth it. It’s about using technology to support clients who need assistance with tasks such as signing contracts. Although access to justice is a complex problem to solve, any movement forward is a step in the right direction.
Developing a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
You must build a system within your firm that allows people (clients and team members) to engage with you in a way that makes them feel comfortable and included.
Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
Now that more people are mindful of issues around inclusivity, it’s not enough to have this as a quiet topic of conversation within an employee handbook or on the Values page on your website. It needs to be front and center so that clients and team members know they’re coming to a firm where they’re welcomed.
There are three ways you can help underline the importance of inclusivity within your firm:
1. Hiring a diverse team
2. Creating a welcoming work environment
3. Remaining open to clients of all backgrounds
Hiring & Inclusivity
The current law firm employment market is underinclusive. According to NALP’s 2018 Report, women, racial and ethnic minorities, the GLBTQ community, and people with disabilities are all underrepresented in the legal profession.
We can fix these issues with law firm diversity, however, by building our teams with inclusivity in mind. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Write job listings with care. Job listings should be neutral in tone, free from language that might discourage someone to apply. Make it a point to mention your dedication to creating an inclusive team inside your listing. Don’t forget your website—ensure your Career page and additional content speaks about inclusivity in your firm. Many individuals will visit your website to check out your firm before applying.
- Beware of unconscious bias. It’s a real thing. It’s easy for anyone to assume things about an applicant without even thinking. To help avoid it, try reading resumes without names, which helps remove gender and ethnic assumptions. You also have the option to complete phone interviews before calling applicants into your office.
- Gather diverse referrals. Ask your colleagues and other sources for diverse referrals.
- Rethink culture fit. Homogeneity might seem like a great idea, but it often limits the range of people you welcome into your firm. Fantastic employees can come from a variety of places and still be a great culture fit for your team. We believe hiring for diversity creates an improved organizational culture. Diversity results in better conversations, improved decision making, and a marketing message that reaches beyond your current client base.
Creating a Welcoming Work Environment
Diversity in your hiring practices is only half of the whole picture. The second piece is staying committed to diversity once applicants become a part of your team. Your firm’s environment should value each individual for their contributions and do what it takes to make them feel comfortable.
Here are a handful of tips to help you start creating a welcoming work environment within your firm:
- R-E-S-P-E-C-T. The foundation of any successful firm includes a dedication to respect. There are many ways to make it happen. Start by establishing a zero-tolerance policy for disrespect, harassment, and discrimination. Avoid micromanagement tactics that place undue pressure on your employees. Respect your employees’ individual needs and do what it takes to support them.
- Foster a culture of open communication. If your employees are uncomfortable, they should feel comfortable telling you. Everyone in your firm should have a voice they feel empowered to share. Make it a point to keep an open door of communication for any concerns your employees may have. And, don’t forget the follow-through. If an employee is struggling with discrimination, do something about it. If they’re struggling with their job responsibilities, do what it takes to be their peace in the chaos.
- Connect on a personal level. Although there are boundaries in an employer-employee relationship, they don’t stop you from caring about the wellbeing of your employees. Showing a genuine interest in who your employees are personally will create a happier workplace.
- Compensate all your employees fairly. The gender pay gap is no secret. You can do your part by ensuring your compensation packages include fair pay for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, or background.
Diversity and Inclusion with Clients
Inclusion matters not just for hiring, but also in the way you attract potential clients to your firm. It also matters in how you treat your clients once they walk through your door. Here are a few best practices to follow to ensure you’re staying true to client-facing inclusivity:
- Be aware of cultural norms. If a potential client’s background is new to you, do some research. See if you can find any tips on how to proceed respectively. For example, what’s the best way to greet them? If they’re coming to your office, how easy can they make it to where you are from where they park? If you’re meeting for lunch, are there dietary restrictions you should be aware of? These considerations make a huge impact on your clients.
- Rethink your marketing messages. Different cultures and backgrounds will respond to different marketing messages. Get to know each culture’s needs, hopes, and desires when hiring an attorney. Speak to those needs to attract a more diverse clientele. Remember to ensure your website is accessible for all.
- Create a diverse team. When you have a diverse team, it’s easier to attract and retain diverse clientele. There’s something comforting about walking into an office and being met with those who understand you. It’s also a great practice to hire individuals with experience in other languages.
- Stay flexible. Each client has unique needs. For example, are you able to conduct a phone consultation for those unable to come to your office? Can you schedule a consultation for after the mom drops her child off at band practice? These are only a couple of examples that showcase the need for flexibility in how you conduct business with a diverse clientele.
- Be open and responsive. Your clients should feel comfortable discussing their concerns and asking questions at any time. At the end of your consults or meetings, ask if your clients have any questions to ensure they understand what happens next. This simple act can eliminate any culturally-based fears that may exist for your client.
Inclusivity Takes Work, But It’s Worth It
As demographics continue to change, you must place importance on inclusion to move forward and grow. Yes, diversity and inclusivity take work and dedication. We understand this is hard, but you don’t have to be 100% in a month or even a year. All you have to do is take baby steps towards improving your firm.
Want to Learn More About Law Firm Diversity and Inclusion? Download Chapter One of The Small Firm Roadmap.
Law firm diversity and inclusion are achievable with the right guidance. Our new book “The Small Firm Roadmap” will dig deeper into how you can position your firm for greater inclusivity. Download the first chapter for free today.