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  • Writer's pictureHeidi Bayer

Diversity in the Legal Community

Is the Legal Profession Embracing Diversity?

I recently returned from South Africa, and not surprisingly, I found myself inspired to discuss the importance of diversity in the legal industry. I am actually from, Johannesburg, South Africa, where much of my family was born and raised. Among them, my Great Uncle, Henry Nathanson, who had the privilege of being in law school with Nelson Mandela (pictured below). When I visited my uncle on this recent trip, we talked about Mandela and that despite the deep-seeded racism prevalent in their country, at that time, it was vital Mandela had been given the opportunity to attend law school.

You would think diversity wouldn’t be an issue in a more progressive part of the world, like the United States, but as a trusted legal advisor, I am often engaged in discussions about diversity within our legal market. I encounter many enthusiastic hiring managers who set goals for reaching parity, but sometimes it is difficult to detect progress. As recently noted by the national Minority Corporate Counsel Association, the positive news is minority attorneys are at a record high of 16 percent, so despite historical constraints steering minorities in other directions, there has been an evolution. However, minority attorneys are severely underrepresented among partners and in leadership roles, so clearly, more needs to be done. Below are some thoughts on how companies/firms may be more impactful as it relates to diversity: Adjust Your Approach – If your company/firm is seeking diversity, you may need to modify your current practices to be more inclusive. Begin by assessing your procedures thoroughly and be clear on how your company/firm intends to incorporate minority attorneys into the culture.

Define Diversity – The terms of what makes someone diverse are ever-changing. It is important to decide what diversity means for your company/firm and share it, so everyone understands the goals and are committed to the same standards.

Mandate Mentors – Once your objectives are defined, formulate a plan, including a mentorship program. There is no substitute for proper training and support, and with collaboration between the leadership of a company/firm and individual attorneys, the efficacy of such programs is greater, resulting in minority attorneys being more integrated.

Providing a Path – With the end goal being to further advance minority attorneys, it is critical to assess the individual needs and background of each attorney and then provide well-defined guidelines and objectives to maximize their success. 

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