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Diversity and inclusion in small law departments

Many law departments recognize that diversity & inclusion (D&I) is a key factor in attracting stronger talent to drive superior legal results for their organizations. A diverse and inclusive team of lawyers can draw on their different backgrounds and experiences to provide more informed legal advice, generate more ideas and legal options, and better understand the people and cultures with which their organization does business.

At the same time, these law departments (particularly smaller ones, often with fewer than five attorneys) are challenged by having limited resources to allocate to D&I efforts. However, regardless of law department size, location, or budget, in-house counsel can take steps to achieve or improve D&I in their teams and the legal profession.

How can small law departments build diverse teams and inclusive work environments?

  • Establish a diversity committee to evaluate best practices and make recommendations on how to develop and execute a departmental D&I strategy.
  • Adopt a departmental D&I policy and communicate it to the team.
  • Train employees on the importance of D&I, the existence of unconscious bias, and their responsibilities for supporting D&I.
  • Make D&I part of performance management, tied to compensation and promotion opportunities.
  • Set recruitment and retention goals and committing to hire diverse candidates when positions become available in the law department.
  • Measure improvements in D&I efforts, even if done informally.
  • Create two-way mentorship opportunities so senior staff gain more awareness of cultural and generational differences, while junior staff are provided career development advice.
  • Adopt flexible work arrangements, such as alternate work schedules and job shares, to address the team's diverse individual needs.

How can small law departments drive diversity among outside counsel?

  • Hire diverse outside counsel and using diversity as a factor in selecting preferred law firms.
  • Communicate the law department's D&I expectations (for example, by including D&I requirements in outside counsel guidelines).
  • Work with firms to identify minority mid-level associates to place directly on the organization's matters.
  • Demand that diverse attorneys play a role in pitching work and ensuring they receive credit for their efforts.
  • Obtain law firm metrics on their diversity recruitment, retention, and attrition, and the nature and quality of matters assigned to their diverse counsel.
  • Award bonuses to outside counsel that meet D&I goals, and hold back fees if D&I requirements are not met.

What ways can in-house counsel in small law departments support D&I?

  • Join bar associations and other organizations that promote diversity.
  • Sponsor a summer internship program for minority law students.
  • Speak at local high schools, colleges, and universities to encourage more diverse students to become attorneys.
  • Perform pro bono legal services for underserved diverse members of their communities.

The Practice Notes, Increasing Law Department Diversity and Increasing Law Firm Diversity, available with a free trial to Practical Law Connect, can help your organization understand how to better promote and increase D&I in your law department and the law firms you engage.

See how small law departments can promote diversity 

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