The moral obligation of a various and integrative firm / authorized division: An argument for affinity and useful resource teams for enterprise legislation at present from ABA
Events that have taken place in the United States and Canada over the past few months have highlighted the systemic racism that black African American communities continue to face and struggle with in both society in general and in the professional environment, including the legal profession. Racism and prejudice have created barriers for the black African American community in all areas of society, including within our respective business and legal communities.
The 10-year trend of the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey (Demographics Survey) shows that Caucasians made up 88 percent of the profession in 2009, a number that fell to just 85 percent by 2019. The Demographics Survey also shows that between 2009 and 2019, the ratio of men to women within the occupation only changed by 5.2 percent (men made up 64 percent of the profession and women only 36 percent in 2019).
Ethical obligation to enable access to the profession
The results of the demographic survey show that the profession is still a long way from becoming accessible to a diverse membership. The profession in general, and each law firm individually, has an ethical obligation to take steps to improve access to justice, including access to membership for all, especially those who have traditionally encountered barriers to entry and advancement in the profession . Fulfilling this commitment requires a greater commitment to eliminating discrimination and racism in all forms, and this needs to become a stronger focus for all of us.
We as a profession can and should do better and do more.
General law firm initiatives to promote inclusion
In response to the underrepresentation of various lawyers in the profession, many law firms have increased their focus on initiatives aimed at ensuring that they are able to attract and retain diverse talent through meaningful engagement and promotion to leadership positions. Examples of these initiatives can be some of the following:
- Hosting sessions on cultural sensitivity and unconscious bias training;
- Providing financial support for various lawyers to become members of cultural or LGBTQ2 + local associations or organizations and to attend conferences;
- Education through organized cultural programs such as diversity e-memos;
- Enrollment in organizations that help develop and review guidelines to ensure that fixed guidelines do not exclude or disproportionately burden cultures, races, or sexual orientations / gender identities;
- Developing and implementing procedures to respond to client diversity reporting requests to ensure that legal teams are staffed by different lawyers at all levels (including senior / original lawyers) and address related confidentiality / disclosure issues; and
- Development and implementation of guidelines for affinity groups and promotion / initiation of meaningful affinity groups.
Affinity groups play a central role in increasing diversity in law firms. They allow their membership to actively participate in the communication and to gather around a central purpose and background to support one another and create a voice for their members. Through this approach, they can foster confidence, career growth, leadership potential, and success. They can also provide effective business and professional development opportunities by engaging with customers who share the personal characteristics of their membership.
To create a successful affinity group program, it is important to implement a policy that clarifies the parameters for setting up affinity groups. It is advisable that the proposed founders commit to (1) serve a specific term (i.e. two years), (2) set the goals of the respective affinity group and their early-planned initiatives, (3) act as a mentor or advocate Membership, (4) complete awareness training to help membership deal with difficulties such as harassment or discrimination, and (5) report regularly to the Company’s Diversity Committee.
Given that affinity groups are an inclusion initiative, consider keeping them open to all law firm members, not just lawyers.
Examples of affinity groups can be: Asians, Black / African American, Latino / Latina, Jews, LGBTQ2 +, people with disabilities (and their carers), psychiatric carers, and parents of young families.
Successful affinity groups can take initiatives like the following:
- Volunteering / partnership with community and youth programs;
- Hosting events during dates or periods of cultural importance (e.g. Black History Month, Pride);
- Working with law student affinity groups to create mentoring opportunities and help with recruiting;
- Hosting / mentoring students from inner-city schools to connect teenagers with common personal traits with the lives of law firms (including programming for interactions with police and employers, building relationships with successful people who share their personal traits, and visiting financial districts and courthouses );
- circulating corporate calendars listing all holidays / note dates for the culture / religion associated with affinity groups;
- Conducting lunches and study sessions with speakers / panels to discuss specific issues related to the culture or personal characteristics of membership for CLE credits;
- Organization of teams for the annual Pride Runs / Walks / Charity Team Events;
- Organize initiatives to recognize and support anti-bullying campaigns (such as International Pink Day, which is an opportunity to celebrate diversity and raise awareness, stop homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny and all forms of bullying);
- Host “Let’s Walk” events to build community and promote health and exercise;
- Hosting speakers or activities with the aim of reducing stigma and providing mental wellness education and coping strategies;
- Providing first aid training to permanent members on mental health to provide ongoing support to colleagues who may encounter mental health problems and the like;
- Lobbying to improve business benefits, including mental wellness apps for all business members; and
- Creating spaces / forums (ie parents of young families) for those who share challenges, experiences and resources.