A Watershed Moment: Can Law Firms be the Change and Lead the Nation?

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This watershed year has raised the entire nation’s awareness of the depth of our long-standing racism.

As we take a historical look back, we know that racism in our country dates to our founding fathers, many of whom had slaves. We don’t need to review every racist attack and issue from the past 12 months to be more than aware that this problem looms large. Racism and unconscious bias surely must be addressed strongly at this window of opportunity facing our nation, simply highlighted by the April 20, 2021, George Floyd murder trial guilty verdict.

Law firms have the opportunity to become true leaders in the country to successfully address and change this systemic problem and be part of the solution.

The manpower is there along with incredibly intelligent and creative professionals who can use their collective strong voices and wisdom to instill true change and lasting progress.

For this to happen organizations might consider incorporating professional process improvement and process mapping strategies to accomplish real and sustained change. To take a line from the musical The Music Man, we can’t just use the “think method” and expect transformation. Law firms have taken action over the years, donating funds to anti-racist causes and forming Diversity Committees. But we know that hiring, mentoring, training and including minorities along their career path, so they feel part of their firms, takes more than what has been done to date.

Imagine how powerful and client relationship enhancing it would be for law firms or a group of partners to work side by side with legal departments to find solutions, which are also struggling to maintain diverse professional numbers for the long term.

...committees, mandates and words are just the tip of the iceberg of real change.

According to an April 21, 2021 article published by American Lawyer Media, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Littler Mendelson; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Beveridge & Diamond; and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld were among the first large firms to issue public statements after the jury’s verdict was announced recently. This is a positive outcome. Many are now hoping a deeper level of commitment and action happens as a result of this.

Change takes time. This deep-rooted systemic problem in our country needs to be dealt with by more than “thoughts and prayers.” Many law firms have pledged their support of the Mansfield Rule, owning up their numbers of minorities working at their firms and those in leadership positions. But committees, mandates and words are just the tip of the iceberg of real change.

It takes committed law firms with committed leaders using change process management tools to effectively chip away at this issue.

Law firms are in a unique position to stand up loudly and proudly against systemic racism. More can be done in addition to donating funds to anti-racist organizations, developing mentoring programs and committees, and signing the Mansfield Rule pledge. According to Lisa Kirby, chief intelligence & knowledge sharing officer at Diversity Lab, which is responsible for creating the Mansfield Rule program, we need 30% of firms actively pursuing racial equality consciously and consistently to disrupt bias. Let’s do this, law firms.

According to Raymond Williams, partner and Chief Diversity Officer at DLA stated, “We are committed to dealing head on with unconscious bias. At our firm we have dug deeply to find solutions which are true and lasting beyond training and our extensive mentoring programs.”

According to Williams, the following is a list of some of the initiatives at DLA. They are extemporary:

  • Training and Series: Over the past year in the U.S., we had 32 office specific trainings following the death of George Floyd and started a firmwide series of presentations: Taking a Moment and Building a Movement.
  • Twenty-two local diversity & inclusion committees and seven resource groups. National DEI Team as Hub to the Local Committees and Resource Groups.
  • We celebrate every heritage or history month. National team provides the content and the local committee plans the local event, such as Ramadan.
  • Theatre based training with Kenji Yoshino, Director of NYU Law School’s Center for Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging.
  • Client based partnerships (knowledge sharing and training) e.g. This February, we finished two Black History Month presentations done in collaboration with clients.

Perhaps this article might be a call to all law firms to stand up, dig deeper, and break through not only overt racism, but also unconscious bias and white fragility. Let’s do this and make a real difference by leading the nation forcefully.

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Merry Neitlich, Managing Partner of EM Consulting, is located in Irvine, California. We assist law firms with strategic business development, branding, websites, legal operations, and client enhancement programs. Merry can be reached at 949.260.0936 or merry@EMconsults.org

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