Jump to content

Why are law firms still failing on diversity? (Article)


GoBigOrGoHome

Recommended Posts

GoBigOrGoHome
  • Law Student

Came across an article that discusses law firms still failing on diversity

Maybe I am off base (and probably am because I am not a lawyer - yet), but I think that it is the way that this profession is structured and how it bills that continues to contribute to this. 

A substantial portion of law school graduates are KJD and will not have had substantial workplace experiences that assist them in navigating an office culture. They may have work experience, but in my case, I know that the gossip that ensued during my days working retail in the summers would not have flied in the offices I worked in afterwards. I view my retail job as transitory and if the culture sucked, you would leave and go to the next store over. Your specialized desk job isn't often transitory, so there is more of an effort put on establishing a decent culture. Law firms are predominantly made up of lawyers - and for those that are KJD, they may not have exposure to varying work cultures that would allow them to integrate that into their new workplace. 

The other part is the fact that it is still an environment that rewards billables. Some of the training that I would want law firm partners to undertake requires significant time. To reach a target of 1600 hours you are the most productive human being ever if you manage to meet your target, CLE requirements and do a standard 9-5. Asking people to engage in initiatives, training, etc. while still keeping targets the same isn't going to make it easy to move the needle when people will have to give more time out of their personal life to support DEI efforts. This isn't to say that all training should be hours long intensive sessions (in the legal environment it seems like you need a series of extremely short things that build on each other), but some of it will need to be intensive. I just don't know how you can really move the needle in this kind of environment. 

I wasn't the most self-aware person when I entered the professional workforce. School (at that time) didn't reach what privilege was, the impact of systemic racism, bias, etc. It also didn't teach me how to resolve conflict in challenging situations, manage diverse employees, etc. It is through the workplace that I learned these  things. I have been with employers that make these kinds of workshops available. Maybe university is changing, but the last university course I took was 5 years ago, and it was still the same. 

With these things in mind, it is obvious to me why it is hard to change the culture. If people don't have the time to genuinely engage in these conversations and learn more about them, how will they. I don't expect people who go from Kindergarten to law school to enter the workforce completely aware of how to manage conflict in a healthy way, give and receive feedback effectively, understand the unintentional impact of their words, etc. A lot of these things are often learned in the workplace - and if that opportunity doesn't exist due to lack of time, good luck at meaningful change. 

I could be wrong and there are other reasons (yes yes I know those leading many firms are from a different generation than most of us on this forum - and perhaps things will change when they retire. I think that things will change, but not as much as people hope). I also think that kids nowadays are more aware of inequity in the world and its impact on outcomes than those of my generation growing up, but I definitely am not going to associate that with them knowing how to manage conflict in a healthy way. Cancel culture is huge. People are outwardly hostile. Saying what you think is one thing. But saying what you think in a way that is both respectful and going to be received by the person you are stating it to is something else entirely - and I think that we have empowered kids, but not necessarily thoughtful communicators. 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

KOMODO
  • Lawyer

I can't write the long and detailed response that this deserves right now, but I think the factors outlined in the article are more relevant (from what I've seen and heard at my big firm) to this specific issue than the hours. People of all races are equally impacted by the hours (though mothers may be more impacted than fathers due to societal expectations around childcare), and it's true that people of all kinds leave because the billable model sucks, but I think people of colour are underrepresented because of constant insidious racism, bias in hiring/promotion/work allocation practices, and existing underrepresentation (it's a vicious cycle because if there is only one person of colour in a group, they may be more likely to leave because they feel like they don't fit in). Hopefully some of the other members of the board can chime in with their own lived experiences on this when they have time. 

  • Like 4
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

CleanHands
  • Lawyer
1 hour ago, KOMODO said:

Hopefully some of the other members of the board can chime in with their own lived experiences on this when they have time. 

As a mediocre straight white man I've found this profession very welcoming.

  • Like 3
  • LOL 3
  • Nom! 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rusty Iron Ring
  • Lawyer
13 hours ago, GoBigOrGoHome said:

 

I could be wrong and there are other reasons (yes yes I know those leading many firms are from a different generation than most of us on this forum - and perhaps things will change when they retire. I think that things will change, but not as much as people hope). 

Things have already changed quite a bit over the course of my career.  They will keep changing, because of retirement not just within the firms, but within the clients. 

The generations of lawyers who graduated when everyone was white and most were men are always going to be mostly white and mostly men. But they aren't around forever.  And, importantly, the generation of clients who were perfectly happy with a boardroom full of old, white, male lawyers is also not around forever.  

The work to fix all this asap should continue, because it's the right thing to do. But I think it's also inevitable. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Pantalaimon
  • Lawyer

I think a lot of it has to do with how the profession relies on one-on-one mentoring. This kind of plays into Komodo's point about practice groups, but out of the classmates that I know are planning laterals or to leave big law already, it has to do with a lack of mentorship more than anything else. It's certainly not, at least from what they've shared, because of any blatant displays of abuse like those mentioned in the article.

In terms of my own lived experience, it doesn't bother me that POC are few and far between in my practice group (and they're all junior). I've been lucky enough to have partners - that I work with, not diversity officers watching from afar - that care about me as a human being, and who are invested in my growth and having me stay at the firm. That means more to me than any affinity group or recruitment policy, and I hope that makes the difference in terms of staying in this profession and 'beating the odds' for partnership.

I'm not sure what the fix is, but I think it needs to move the needle in terms of representation at the partnership level. If I'm a partner and I'm looking at a student class and deciding who to 'take under my wing', I'm going to be drawn to students that look or act like me. I don't think all the unconscious bias training in the world would remove that proclivity. Sure, we can put systems in place to allocate work more fairly between students/associates, give recognition for non-billables, and get them facetime with the important partners, but eventually you will hit a professional ceiling if you're not being mentored adequately. And in the inflexible hierarchy of firm life that means being managed out eventually.

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Judgelight
  • Lawyer

Not to derail this conversation - but another question I've wondered is, why do Crown law officers hire so few PoC and why are so many Crown attorneys from privileged backgrounds?

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

CleanHands
  • Lawyer
2 minutes ago, Judgelight said:

Not to derail this conversation - but another question I've wondered is, why do Crown law officers hire so few PoC and why are so many Crown attorneys from privileged backgrounds?

I'd imagine that comfort with the status quo and willingness to be a servant of the justice system in its present form, as well as ability to take lower-paying positions (relative to other law jobs and given that people hired as Crowns tend to have competitive profiles for higher paid positions if they wanted), both are factors that would play a part in that.

I'd be interested in seeing statistics about the backgrounds of lawyers in different areas of law though. I'm not agreeing that the Crown is worse than other areas in the legal field in this respect, although I'm not disputing that either (since I don't know either way).

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

nayaab05
  • Lawyer
3 hours ago, Pantalaimon said:

I think a lot of it has to do with how the profession relies on one-on-one mentoring. This kind of plays into Komodo's point about practice groups, but out of the classmates that I know are planning laterals or to leave big law already, it has to do with a lack of mentorship more than anything else. It's certainly not, at least from what they've shared, because of any blatant displays of abuse like those mentioned in the article.

In terms of my own lived experience, it doesn't bother me that POC are few and far between in my practice group (and they're all junior). I've been lucky enough to have partners - that I work with, not diversity officers watching from afar - that care about me as a human being, and who are invested in my growth and having me stay at the firm. That means more to me than any affinity group or recruitment policy, and I hope that makes the difference in terms of staying in this profession and 'beating the odds' for partnership.

I'm not sure what the fix is, but I think it needs to move the needle in terms of representation at the partnership level. If I'm a partner and I'm looking at a student class and deciding who to 'take under my wing', I'm going to be drawn to students that look or act like me. I don't think all the unconscious bias training in the world would remove that proclivity. Sure, we can put systems in place to allocate work more fairly between students/associates, give recognition for non-billables, and get them facetime with the important partners, but eventually you will hit a professional ceiling if you're not being mentored adequately. And in the inflexible hierarchy of firm life that means being managed out eventually.

100% this. Mentorship and the one-on-one kind (not rigid or formalistic) makes the difference. The question is how do you get current leadership/people in a position of power to sincerely mentor younger lawyers that may not look like them/ behave like them / talk like them. It goes hand in hand with the conversations around sponsorship as well which is distinct from mentorship. 

The other conversation that nobody seems to be having on this topic is the conforming behaviour adopted by POCs to fit in (think of the model minority) or just the “white” POCs that fit in because beyond the extra melanin (and maybe a non-white name) they pretty much fit status quo. I’ve had a lawyer on Bay Street tell me how annoyed they get if there are other “diverse” lawyers in their same year of call implying that it takes away part of the edge of their profile to stand out to the partnership. Not surprisingly, there is this scarcity mindset that follows along into the profession from law school. “White” POCs also tend to benefit from diversity initiatives because they look the part, but are not that different from their white colleagues. 
 

I think this entire conversation also points to a deeper question of what does it mean to be a successful lawyer that (Bay Street) clients will hire for their biggest mandates. Obviously, the rainmakers and the partners will turn to someone that reminds them of themselves because who they are is how they’ve answered that question for themselves. But like Rusty Iron Ring mentioned above, the clients that hired the current partners/rainmakers are also on their way to retirement as are those partners/rainmakers. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out in the next 5-10 years. 
 

I also don’t have an answer on how to solve the problem. You cannot make someone mentor someone and take them under their wing. There’s also not enough corporate work to go around in Canada to force people to focus on meritocracy over appearances. 
 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

MOL
  • Lawyer
9 hours ago, CleanHands said:

As a mediocre straight white man I've found this profession very welcoming.

Welcome brother, we've been waiting....from failing hands, we pass the torch.....

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
  • LOL 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

GoBigOrGoHome
  • Law Student
1 hour ago, nayaab05 said:

 think this entire conversation also points to a deeper question of what does it mean to be a successful lawyer that (Bay Street) clients will hire for their biggest mandates. Obviously, the rainmakers and the partners will turn to someone that reminds them of themselves because who they are is how they’ve answered that question for themselves. But like Rusty Iron Ring mentioned above, the clients that hired the current partners/rainmakers are also on their way to retirement as are those partners/rainmakers. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out in the next 5-10 years. 

I am only going to touch on a small part of this - I think that a lot of firms will be pressured to hire people from diverse backgrounds, but I don't know how much that will equate to a sense of belonging for those diverse employees. 
 

In the public sector, a lot of contracts require that the teams delivering the services (and sometimes more senior staff people) be diverse. For some contracts, you can actually be certified for your diversity, and then be permitted to apply on a lot of contracts. Diversity extends to subcontractors. 

Generally this has been in the context of social procurement, but I was part of a consultation a few weeks ago and there was pushback on only integrating this into social procurement. There was a desire to integrate this into all procurement. 

I have mixed feelings about this because tokenism concerns me. I also recognize that you have to start somewhere in giving people of diverse backgrounds opportunities and over time it hopefully transitions to just being normal instead of tokenistic. 
 

If law firms want contracts with public sector clients, they will need to start making sure that their legal teams, support staff, etc. are diverse. 

(During this meeting I also pointed out that if government goes this way, it needs to audit for intersectionality. It is not okay to just latch onto diversity and think that it is being met but you end up with a contractor that has 100 racialized men and no women. It is those with intersectional identities that are often the most underrepresented). 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Quote
21 hours ago, Pantalaimon said:

eventually you will hit a professional ceiling if you're not being mentored adequately

 

As a female POC associate lawyer, this is my biggest fear. It only increased after getting that job at a 'nice firm'. 

  • Hugs 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

SNAILS
  • Articling Student

[quote]Why are law firms still failing on diversity? [/quote]

This is the type of question that has great significance on the internet as though this is the primary thing people who work at law firms are or should be concerned about. A law firm is a business.

{And I am basing this on my experience. I know some forum lawyer, or several, is going to come out of the woodwork and say that that their experience is different and I know nothing because I haven't been at this long enough and that the legal world is all about what race and gender you are, la da da}

I am a white male summer student with a small firm. The firm consists of: Non-white male, not educated in Canada (owner), black female (my supervising lawyer), white female (junior lawyer) and several female clerks/paralegals.

I have NEVER heard the issues of race within the firm come up at all EVER. I have never heard "We need to advance more black/brown people in the legal profession." And the people who run the place had all the power to do that if they so desired. Osgoode Hall is at most 50% white, by my crude estimation, so they had plenty of people to choose from. I have never heard "We could really improve this firm by hiring a gay guy!" {Disclaimer, half the firm might be gay presently. I don't know. they don't talk about it. We work}.

What I have heard a lot of is {paraphrased} "SNAILS get this done" and "X failed to get it done / properly done"  and "We're busy A.F., we need to stay late and work harder."

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer

I, for one, am shocked that a white male law student does not think race or gender are a problem in the legal profession. 

  • Like 6
  • LOL 10
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rusty Iron Ring
  • Lawyer
3 hours ago, SNAILS said:

I have never heard "We could really improve this firm by hiring a gay guy!" {Disclaimer, half the firm might be gay presently. I don't know. they don't talk about it. We work}.

 

One of our clients from outside Canada, as part of their diversity initiative, wanted us to give them an outline of our firm including the sexual orientation of our lawyers and staff.  We had to call them and gently try to explain that we would be guessing in many cases as we don't tell a lot of sex stories in the office, and we aren't about to start asking anyone who hasn't volunteered the information. 

  • Like 1
  • LOL 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you are federally regulated for employment law, you are actually under a legal obligation to collect that data every year and report it to the government.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

GoBigOrGoHome
  • Law Student
2 hours ago, Jaggers said:

If you are federally regulated for employment law, you are actually under a legal obligation to collect that data every year and report it to the government.

That’s interesting and good to know. The consultation I attended was with the feds and I said that we can’t just start asking what sexual orientation people are and report back (Province). 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 hours ago, SNAILS said:

[quote]Why are law firms still failing on diversity? [/quote]

This is the type of question that has great significance on the internet as though this is the primary thing people who work at law firms are or should be concerned about. A law firm is a business.

{And I am basing this on my experience. I know some forum lawyer, or several, is going to come out of the woodwork and say that that their experience is different and I know nothing because I haven't been at this long enough and that the legal world is all about what race and gender you are, la da da}

I am a white male summer student with a small firm. The firm consists of: Non-white male, not educated in Canada (owner), black female (my supervising lawyer), white female (junior lawyer) and several female clerks/paralegals.

I have NEVER heard the issues of race within the firm come up at all EVER. I have never heard "We need to advance more black/brown people in the legal profession." And the people who run the place had all the power to do that if they so desired. Osgoode Hall is at most 50% white, by my crude estimation, so they had plenty of people to choose from. I have never heard "We could really improve this firm by hiring a gay guy!" {Disclaimer, half the firm might be gay presently. I don't know. they don't talk about it. We work}.

What I have heard a lot of is {paraphrased} "SNAILS get this done" and "X failed to get it done / properly done"  and "We're busy A.F., we need to stay late and work harder."

This is so sad. If you're just basing it off your own limited experience and that you never experienced it, why are you even commenting? This discussion is about the fact that there IS a lack of diversity. Whether or not you personally experienced it doesn't change that at all.  

Not sure what "a firm is a business" is supposed to mean. Are you inscinuating if firms are fully profit driven, then hiring diverse candidates somehow works against that? 

Also, maybe you can start by asking your diverse colleages what their experiences are like before commening that issues of race doesn't come up within your firm.

 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

GoBigOrGoHome
  • Law Student
6 minutes ago, hiccups said:

Also, maybe you can start by asking your diverse colleages what their experiences are like before commening that issues of race doesn't come up within your firm.

 

It wouldn’t be far fetched to learn that people that are underrepresented in law firms of a certain size (larger) are disproportionately solo practitioners or start their own firms (I am assuming here - maybe there is data to back up my assumption). 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Pantalaimon
  • Lawyer
9 minutes ago, hiccups said:

Not sure what "a firm is a business" is supposed to mean. Are you inscinuating if firms are fully profit driven, then hiring diverse candidates somehow works against that? 

To be fair to @SNAILS, EDI does probably consume firm resources just in the hiring process and nonbillable hours involved. So perhaps there's an argument there.

But in terms of the firm being a business, I actually agree with him - it's a client-facing business, and clients and regulators increasingly care about diversity (e.g. the examples given in this thread). So I think it would be foolish to ignore client desires on the basis that you don't see internal problems.

More to the point, small firms may not have the same diversity problems as large firms. Perhaps his anecdote is correct, because his firm seems quite diverse. The issue is extending that by analogy to every single firm or the profession writ large.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

bocuma
  • Law Student

Further to what @Pantalaimon is saying, I think there's a recruitment and retention element to EDI that is important to any law firm's business. One of the first things I do when I look at a law firm is take note of the demographics there, and look at whether they have EDI initiatives. If it's all-male or all-female or all-white I probably won't apply. I've worked in an all-white-male office before and it wasn't a great experience. It has nothing to do with a specific race or gender, moreso the fact that when everyone has the same background it can create an echo chamber where problematic views/assumptions go unnoticed, and things that wouldn't fly in a more diverse workplace become an ingrained part of the culture. If law firms want to recruit the best candidates, they need to create workplaces that are welcoming to candidates from diverse backgrounds. The way you do that is through EDI initiatives.

  • Like 2
  • LOL 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

artsydork
  • Lawyer
30 minutes ago, Pantalaimon said:

To be fair to @SNAILS, EDI does probably consume firm resources just in the hiring process and nonbillable hours involved. So perhaps there's an argument there.

But in terms of the firm being a business, I actually agree with him - it's a client-facing business, and clients and regulators increasingly care about diversity (e.g. the examples given in this thread). So I think it would be foolish to ignore client desires on the basis that you don't see internal problems.

More to the point, small firms may not have the same diversity problems as large firms. Perhaps his anecdote is correct, because his firm seems quite diverse. The issue is extending that by analogy to every single firm or the profession writ large.

His anecdote misses the point though. I also work for a small firm that is largely composed of a diverse population (2 people of colour, a female criminal defence lawyer, and literally the only out lawyer in this town). Dealing with racism, misogyny, homophobia and microaggressions is just part of our lived experience. We all have a business to run and prioritize, especially with our student, getting our legal shit done. Just because Snails doesn't hear the partners talk about EDI doesn't mean that they aren't. And, even if they aren't,  the burden to shoulder EDI issues should not only fall on racialized or equity-seeking groups. 

  • Like 6
  • LOL 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

CleanHands
  • Lawyer
25 minutes ago, artsydork said:

His anecdote misses the point though. I also work for a small firm that is largely composed of a diverse population (2 people of colour, a female criminal defence lawyer, and literally the only out lawyer in this town). Dealing with racism, misogyny, homophobia and microaggressions is just part of our lived experience. We all have a business to run and prioritize, especially with our student, getting our legal shit done. Just because Snails doesn't hear the partners talk about EDI doesn't mean that they aren't. And, even if they aren't,  the burden to shoulder EDI issues should not only fall on racialized or equity-seeking groups. 

This reads like post-modernist neo-Marxism to me.

  • Like 2
  • LOL 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

artsydork
  • Lawyer
2 hours ago, CleanHands said:

This reads like post-modernist neo-Marxism to me.

I included the words "business to run" without any irony. We get shit done. Also, da fuq is "post-modernist neo-Marxism". I'll let the philosophy majors on the site hash it out but you should probably stop using words strung together by Jordan Peterson.

 

  • LOL 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

CleanHands
  • Lawyer
24 minutes ago, artsydork said:

Also, da fuq is "post-modernist neo-Marxism".

I don't know. I just think it sounds funny to say (or write).

  • LOL 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By accessing this website, you agree to abide by our Terms of Use. YOU EXPRESSLY ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT YOU WILL NOT CONSTRUE ANY POST ON THIS WEBSITE AS PROVIDING LEGAL ADVICE EVEN IF SUCH POST IS MADE BY A PERSON CLAIMING TO BE A LAWYER. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.