Diversity and Inclusion: As a Small Firm What Can You Do?

By Jessica Riley

While I was working as a Paralegal there was one incident that stayed with me. While the firm promoted their goals around having a diverse workforce, the firm did not practice what it preached.

At a team meeting, we were discussing summer associate recruiting. An associate stepped forward to report on a candidate she interviewed and gave a glowing recommendation. The law student was talented and brilliant with a wonderful personality, essentially all the great characteristics you want in a summer associate. 

After her presentation, the partner immediately denied the request to consider the candidate because the law school was not a top tier school. The law school happened to be a Historically Black College/University (HBCU). The associate who made the proposal appeared defeated and unheard. 

I use this personal anecdote to emphasize that diversity issues trickle down to everyone in the office. I felt uncomfortable working for a place that would not consider a candidate from an HBCU law school. I continued to work there but it changed my feelings about the firm. They advertised diversity as a core value, but it seemed more talk than action.

According to the 2020 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, although representation among minority groups has increased in law firms, it is still far below the levels of other industries.

What Can You Do?

Work with your law school. Your law school was important to you so consider assisting in the admissions process to increase diversity among the law school population. Recommend friends, family, and community members to visit your law school. Offer to conduct mock interviews to prepare diverse students for potential job interviews. Offer internships or summer jobs to diverse students.

Get involved. By joining alumni associations and diversity groups among your college or university and law school, as well as bar associations, candidates can see that you not only care about your firm but the wellbeing of the legal profession and the promotion of diversity among professionals. 

Get your staff involved. It is important that you work as a team and have a unified vision of the ideals of the firm. Asking for staff participation in events and committees helps promote teamwork and brings fresh perspective and ideas. This collaboration can help not only to increase diversity inside the firm, but to make your client base more diverse as well.

Understand Client Experience (CX). While client service is how the firm treats the client, the client experience is how your clients view and interact with the firm. The more diverse your firm is the more clients can identify with it and have a positive experience. 

Being good at client service is one thing but attracting and retaining professionals, employees, and clients through diversity and inclusion efforts is a step beyond. Creating a diverse work environment where everyone feels valued cannot be done by just one person but requires the whole team. Having diverse people with varied experiences will make your firm richer for you and your clients.

Jessica Riley is a graduate of the Meredith College Paralegal Program and a Marketing Assistant with Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services. 

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