How In-House Counsel Can Lead the Way in Legal Diversity

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on July 20, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's no secret that the legal profession has been slow to cultivate and support a diverse workforce. Law is one of the whitest, most male-dominated professions, losing to the medical, engineering, and even tech industries when it comes to diversity.

Yet, many in-house legal departments are faced with corporate diversity initiatives which seek to strengthen diversity within the company and its partners. Here's how CGs can help accomplish those goals, helping to lead the way to a more diverse legal profession despite barriers in the industry.

Continue Supporting Diversity In-House

Legal departments blow law firms out of the water when it comes to diversity. At the highest levels, firms remain largely male and largely white according to ABA statistics. Female lawyers typically make up around 45 percent of law firm associates, but only 20 percent of partners -- and only four percent of managing partners at large firms. Less than two percent of law firm partners are black.

In-house legal departments aren't perfect, but they are clearly better when it comes to diversity. Twenty percent of legal departments are headed by minority lawyers. Thirty-six percent were run by women, according to the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.

There is, of course, room to improve. Women and attorneys of color are still underrepresented in-house when compared to the general workforce and even law school graduates. Continuing to focus on recruiting and developing diverse candidates can help in-house law departments develop a diverse workforce. Simply making sure that one minority candidate is interviewed per position, for example, can result in much improved outcomes.

For Outside Counsel, Look Beyond the Partners

For most in-house counsel, however, diversity is not just an internal matter. More than half of large legal departments measure the diversity of their outside counsel.

In-house legal departments can increase their support for diversity in the legal profession by making sure that such tracking is more vigorous. Tracking hours billed by diverse attorneys, for example, can help corporate clients make sure that their outside counsel is diverse in practice, not just in its figureheads. Currently, however, only about 12 percent of departments do so, according to the MCCA.

Firms often have diverse senior partners, according Khurram Nasir Gore, GC and Chief Strategy Officer for Personal BlackBox. Yet this visibility doesn't extend to the actual rank and file, Gore writes. Focusing on the contributions of associates, not just senior partners, can help institutionalize support for diversity, not just in-house, but with outside firms.

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