The legal industry has recognized the pressing need for improved Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. However, the best approach to meet this need remains a challenge. Law firms nationwide pledged to redefine themselves and promote inclusivity, equity, and representation after the tragic murder of George Floyd in 2020. Many established advisory groups, conducted cultural assessments and implemented DEI training programs. While commendable, these efforts may not lead to comprehensive and enduring change.
The Imperative of Hiring a Dedicated DEI Professional
One valuable approach to achieving long-term results in the legal industry’s DEI efforts is hiring a dedicated DEI professional. This approach is particularly critical given the evolving and complex landscape of DEI. In my role as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at my law firm, I work closely with firm leadership and engage with every aspect of the organization to create an inclusive environment for individuals from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, I oversee our mentorship program, navigate the Mansfield certification process, and explore potential strategic partnerships.
Why DEI Deserves Its Own Space
Here are several reasons why DEI should be given its dedicated space, time, and attention within law firms:
Subject Matter Expertise
Hiring a dedicated DEI professional ensures you bring in the necessary subject matter expertise. Assigning additional DEI responsibilities to an existing employee won’t transform them into a DEI expert. DEI leaders with proven experience can swiftly identify growth areas, develop practical objectives, and tailor strategies to suit your firm’s unique needs, ensuring more intentional and rapid results.
A dedicated DEI professional signals that DEI is not a mere checkbox exercise but a firmwide priority essential to your organization’s identity. They can coordinate efforts across various departments, ensuring the momentum of DEI initiatives continues beyond one-off training sessions. This guarantees that DEI remains a permanent and holistic component of your organization.
Meeting Client and Talent Expectations
Investing in a dedicated DEI professional fosters an inclusive internal environment and aligns with the expectations of clients and prospective talent. Clients increasingly choose legal services from firms committed to DEI, considering it a sign of a richer perspective and cultural competency. This, in turn, enables firms to serve clients from diverse backgrounds more effectively. Additionally, top-tier talent is drawn to firms with robust DEI offerings, providing a competitive edge in the global legal marketplace.
Having a dedicated DEI professional ensures accountability for the work and results. In case of success, it’s clear who led the successful initiative. In the event of failure, the DEI leader can lead the formation of a new strategy and its execution. Such adjustments are more challenging to make when no true DEI leader is overseeing the firm’s efforts.
DEI experts are familiar with the components of inclusive workplaces, allowing them to identify measurable variables and set milestones when shaping strategy. They can then track these data points, providing specific data to gauge the strategy’s effectiveness and identify areas for improvement.
In conclusion, DEI experts play a crucial role in transforming a law firm’s culture and ensuring that DEI objectives become actionable and integral to the firm’s identity. As the global legal market evolves, embracing DEI as a firmwide priority is not just a choice but a necessity for long-term success.