This article is based on a recent Womble Bond Dickinson In-House Roundhouse Podcast. Click here to listen to Cathy Hinger and Diana Toman discuss the Mansfield Rule on the Womble Bond Dickinson In-House Roundhouse Podcast.
In 2003, the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule—a policy to increase the number of minority coaches by encouraging teams to interview diverse candidates for head coaching positions. The road to inclusion remains a work in process for the NFL, but the Rooney Rule has been successful in helping improve diversity in the league’s coaching ranks.
At the 2016 Women in Law Hackathon, the legal community developed an application of the Rooney Rule’s principles to the hiring and promotion of women in senior attorney positions. That idea grew into the Mansfield Rule, named after Arabella Mansfield, the first woman licensed to practice law in the US 150 years ago.
So What is the Mansfield Rule?
The focus of the Hackathon was on advancement of women in the legal profession, but as the idea progressed, the Mansfield Rule has expanded from applying to women, to now applying to lawyers of color, LGBTQ+ attorneys and attorneys with disabilities.
The idea is that when you have a level playing field and expand your candidate pool to include more than one woman or diverse attorney, those candidates are more likely to be judged on their qualifications and there is a greater likelihood of a deserving woman, minority, LGBTQ+ or attorney with disabilities getting the job or promotion.
Firms participating in the Mansfield Rule set benchmarks that women, minority, disabled and LGBTQ+ lawyers make up at least 30 percent of the candidate pool for the following positions:
- Equity partner promotions;
- Lateral partners and mid/senior level associates;
- Practice group and office head leadership;
- Executive Committee and/or Board of Directors;
- Partner Promotions/Nominations Committee; and
- Chairperson and/or Managing Partner.
Mansfield Rule participating firms also strive to achieve the same level of diverse lawyer participation in the candidate pools for client pitches.
In all of these categories, it is important to note that the Mansfield Rule doesn’t just apply to lateral candidates who are being recruited. It also applies to attorneys who already work at the firm who are being considered for leadership positions or equity partner elevation.
In July 2019, the Mansfield Rule added a legal department component, so that in-house legal departments now a standard they can measure themselves against, just as law firms already have.
Participating legal departments set a goal that 50 percent of candidates for 70 percent of new hires and internal promotions are diverse candidates from those four aforementioned categories. In addition, 50 percent of outside counsel hires must come from one of those four categories.
The Diversity Lab, which administers the Mansfield Rule program, is offering resources to help companies meet these targets, including a Client Forum for in-house counsel. This event will give in-house lawyers an opportunity to meet and network with diverse candidates from Mansfield-certified firms. The goal is to provide diverse attorneys with a better understanding of how corporate clients hire them and their firms, while giving in-house counsel a chance to network with diverse candidates for outside work. The pilot group of Mansfield-certified legal departments will be announced this summer.
In September 2019, the Diversity Lab (in conjunction with more than two dozen major companies and five large law firms) launched the Move the Needle Fund. This fund provides $5 million for experimental, research-based approaches to improving diversity and inclusion in the legal industry.
Why Do We Need the Mansfield Rule?
There has been a significant diverse pipeline of diverse talent coming into the profession, but getting to leadership is where there has been a drop-off. Women make up approximately half of law school graduates and new associates, but less than 20 percent of equity partners, according to an ABA report. The same report found that only one-quarter of GCs at Fortune 500 companies are women.
The statistics are even worse for attorneys of color, with a recent National Association for Law Placement (NALP) report finding just 6.6 percent of equity partners are racial/ethnic minorities.
While some progress is being made to close these gaps, it will be decades before we reach any level of equity. We, as a legal profession, need to do something to speed up this progress and promote change. And that is what the Mansfield Rule is intended to do.