Diversity Fatigue—Is the Alphabet Soup of Legal Diversity Organizations Helping or Hurting?

by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
Contact

I pride myself on being an upbeat, optimistic, get-it-done kind of person who more often than not can find the bright spot in any situation no matter how dire. Even practicing law for 13 years failed to instill in me the skeptical, almost pessimistic outlook many lawyers seem to embrace. But, lately, I have to admit, after six-plus years of being a diversity and inclusion practitioner in a major law firm, I am starting to feel a bit fatigued. The fatigue arises from the slow progress we are making in diversifying the legal profession and the sheer amount of work that remains to be done. Mainly, I find traces of skepticism beginning to emerge as I think about the plethora of diversity and inclusion organizations that have developed over the last few years to “improve” the status quo. I am beginning to wonder if these organizations can accomplish what they set out to do in the current silos within which they seem to operate.

As a diversity practitioner who is also in charge of talent management at my firm, I see my job as creating an environment that provides the resources and tools for our very talented lawyers to flourish in their careers—however they define that. I want to ensure that all of the lawyers in my firm have enough billable work that is challenging and allows them to develop the competencies and skill sets they need to progress in the firm, are being mentored by powerful partners who are capable of influencing the trajectory of their careers, and are ultimately moving up through the ranks into leadership positions so that those who are following in their footsteps can intuit that success is possible. However, somewhere along the road, this mission (as I have defined it) has been muddled by the need to wade through a lot of other diversity muck that involves sponsoring galas and conferences, vying for awards and accolades, and hopefully getting some continuing legal education in the process.

It has become a nearly full-time job for most diversity practitioners to keep up with the purpose and progress of the myriad of legal diversity organizations and how our law firms, our teams, and the attorneys who we are charged with developing can and should take advantage of their services. The legal diversity world, in my opinion, has devolved into an alphabet soup of competing interests. If we are not careful and if these organizations don’t begin to collaborate more effectively, we certainly run a high risk of ending up doing more harm than good in the long run.

To be fair, each of these organizations has a laudable mission with focused goals and action steps designed to achieve those goals. Just a quick scan of the websites of these organizations along with the multiple emails from them currently sitting in my Outlook inbox demonstrate this. For example:

  • The Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) was “founded in 1997 to advance the hiring, retention, and promotion of diverse attorneys in legal departments and the law firms that serve them. MCCA accomplishes its mission through the collection and dissemination of information about diversity in the legal profession.” MCCA’s seminal Pathways research has been instrumental in providing strategies for legal businesses to improve their workplaces to be more inclusive for ethnic and racial minorities. Moreover, MCCA partnered with Vault to create a comprehensive annual diversity survey for law firms in an effort to have one, uniform survey to be utilized by outside counsel in evaluating the diversity progress of law firms.
  • The Project for Attorney Retention (PAR) is a non-profit institution at the University of California Hastings College of The Law whose hallmark “is to provide high-quality academic research to produce pragmatic solutions to business needs.” PAR has been a leader in linking gender equality with business mandates by promoting a comprehensive approach to increasing diversity and flexibility in the legal profession.
  • The Center for Legal Inclusiveness (CLI), formerly known as the Colorado Campaign for Inclusive Excellence, is also a non-profit, which is “dedicated to advancing diversity in the legal profession by actively educating and supporting private and public sector legal organizations in their own individual campaigns to create cultures of inclusion.” CLI developed an Inclusiveness Manual, an innovative online resource for legal organizations seeking to take diversity to the next level. Moreover, CLI offers intensive training on the fundamentals of inclusiveness via its Inclusiveness Institute.
  • The Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals (ALFDP) is a not-for-profit association of law firm professionals founded in 2006. ALFDP’s mission is “to act as a catalyst for the advancement of diversity in the legal profession through collective knowledge, vision, expertise and advocacy in the arena of law firm diversity.” ALFDP partners with the National Association for Legal Professionals (NALP) to offer an annual diversity summit that explores cutting edge issues in the diversity and inclusion arena.
  • The Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession (IILP) is a multidisciplinary organization whose Board members hail from academia, government, and public service, law firms, and include bar associates, corporate in-house lawyers as well as non-lawyers. IILP “takes a real-world, common-sense approach that aims to acknowledge, understand, and address the reality of diversity in today’s legal profession.” IILP’s seminal research project was “The Business Case for Diversity,” a report concluding that while the business case for diversity is not dead, what it means and what expectations flow from it differ dramatically from one group of stakeholders to the next. Recently, in an innovative step, the IILP wrote to the American Bar Association’s president, Laurel Bellows, asking the organization to amend its Model Rules of Professional Conduct to declare that lawyers have an obligation to promote diversity and inclusion. (Incidentally, just a few months ago, in a budding attempt to break down one silo, I participated in a conference call to initiate a dialog between IILP and ALFDP in order to discuss ways that the two organizations can begin to collaborate and work towards our common goal of diversifying the legal profession.)
  • Finally, the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) “is an organization of nearly 200 corporate chief legal officers and law firm managing partners dedicated to creating a truly diverse legal profession.” Formed in 2009 as an outgrowth of the 2008 Call to Action Summit, the organization’s leadership programs are conceived and implemented by four strategic committees: Pipeline, Talent Development, Partnerships and Teams, and Benchmark. Additionally, the LCLD launched a fellows program designed to provide annual leadership development training to top-performing corporate counsel and law firm junior partners.

As you can see, there are a plethora of organizations committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. MCCA, PAR, CLI, ALFDP, IILP, and LCLD are but six concrete examples of national initiatives trying to move the needle forward. For every one of them, I can name dozens more on the local, regional and even national level that have similarly aligned missions. At this point in time, to my knowledge, only one organization, ALFDP, has deemed its mission critical to develop a collaborative relationship with the five other prominent aforementioned national organizations.

Earlier this year, senior members of ALFDP were designated as formal liaisons to these and other national organizations in an attempt to provide a structure for much needed collaboration and synching of these myriad of diverse efforts. I, for one, believe that unless these organizations begin to partner on their research, annual conferences, mentoring programs, and initiatives, they will unintentionally continue to add to the diversity fatigue of diversity practitioners, and our mutual goal of creating a more diverse legal profession will take longer than we all desire and know to be critical for the sustainable success of our firms.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
Contact
more
less

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.