Last week saw the coming together of law firm leaders across the country for LVN’s roundtable on how firms can move their EDI efforts from intention setting, to sustainable results. The session was well attended by legal professionals across Diversity & Inclusion, Innovation and Legal Project Management roles, with discussions points ranging from how to best support diverse teams, ensuring the equitable distribution of work, and how to celebrate success and learn from drawbacks for enduring change.
The top themes that came out of the session included:
Defining Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for your firm.
As pointed out by one panelist, it’s important to recognize that the terms used by law firms when addressing these people-centric topics are designed to acknowledge the evolution of progress. Each firm will take a different approach based on its culture and as we learn more about our practices and use data to analyze the outcomes of EDI initiatives, law firms will uncover new solutions and areas of development, and the terms used to define these will continue to evolve in reflection.
What we consider when we think of Diversity has changed over time, and now spans across gender, race, disability, religion, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, and other areas. Fairness in work allocation, career development, and promotions to partner or other leadership roles are all areas that fall under the Equity label.
But what’s becoming more apparent to firms is that Inclusion and Belonging, relating to people’s feelings of being valued and fitting in to the culture of a firm, are often pinnacles to success. A firm may feel that they have made significant progress in recruiting diverse talent into the business but now need to focus on inclusion to retain that talent.
Celebrating success and acknowledging learnings
Another key area of discussion was how best to celebrate successes and acknowledge learnings from challenges along the way. The overarching message was that EDI is a marathon, not a sprint.
The past year has accelerated the pace of change, with levels of engagement from legal leaders reaching an all-time high, along with budgets being committed to make change. But we still have a long way to go. For all law firms, this work is not easy and brave leadership is needed to lean into discomfort and learn from challenges presented.
Attendees agreed that promoting success externally needs to be treated with sensitivity, as the experience of diverse groups and communities has been felt throughout their entire lives, not only since EDI has been in the spotlight. Firms must be sensitive to this and aware that these challenges and struggles aren’t new to many.
The panel also addressed the idea that success goes beyond ticking a box when staffing a matter, attendance at a pitch or meeting diverse numbers in the firm. There is a human element to every aspect of change and giving diverse staff a strong voice in the firm can help to address this, along with ensuring fair access to opportunities and career development.
Measuring the data
When looking at where to start with an EDI project, a common theme was for firms to use data to understand both hard metrics and to gather information of sentiment in the firm.
Dave Cook, Commercial Product Director at BigHand and previous founder of Resource Management consulting and software leader, Mason & Cook, made the point that measuring impartial and objective metrics is one step forward, but the value really comes from understanding how people feel. Surveying staff to ask questions on if they feel work is allocated fairly, consistently, and with career development in mind can provide authentic insights.
Monitoring this over time can then lead to analysis of the law firms processes and how these are impacting or progressing opportunities internally. It’s important, for example, not only to ensure diverse staff are allocated to progressive matters, but what types of work they are allocated and if that goes beyond administrative tasks and includes high value involved work. It is also crucial for firms to stay true to their work assignments and not adjust resourcing plans once a matter is running, which is something law firm clients are getting increasingly strict on.
To learn more about BigHand’s resource management consultancy and technology, visit the website or join us for the upcoming webinar, Shaping the Future: The Five-Phase Approach to Effective Legal Resource Management and Managing Change.