Alt Legal Connect Session Summary: Defining Diversity
Alt Legal Team | November 01, 2020
On Tuesday, October 27, David Lat, Managing Director at Lateral Link and founder of Above the Law, presented the session, “Defining Diversity.” During this session, David discussed how to expand our definition and understanding of diversity in order to create truly diverse and inclusive workplaces.
In this important session about diversity in the legal profession, David set forth two imperatives:
Diversity is not enough; we need to add equity and inclusion to the equation.
We need to define diversity broadly.
David began his discussion by broadening our understanding of the term “diversity.” He indicated that diversity no longer stands by itself and that the terminology is “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI). The reason why it is so important to include “equity and inclusion” along with diversity is that diversity without inclusion isn’t enough. David explained that diversity is the what, inclusion is the how, the culture that helps diversity to thrive. When corporate culture doesn’t retain different perspectives, diversity cannot subsist. David continued to explain that equity is significant because there has been such a pressing national conversation about racial inequity, particularly since the killing of George Floyd.
Next, David discussed how it is important to define diversity broadly and how any characteristic can be a dimension of diversity. David explained that the most common elements of diversity are: racial and ethnic diversity, gender diversity, and sexual orientation diversity. David suggested several other characteristics that law firms ought to consider when talking about diversity:
Diabled individuals have a valuable perspective on the world. David discussed the Mansfield Rule, a policy that over 100 law firms have adopted. The Mansfield Rule began in 2016 and was based on the Rooney Rule, an NFL policy requiring teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach openings. Interestingly, the Rooney Rule has no quotas for excessive affirmative action and no requirement to hire anyone. The rule simply requires that a more diverse pool of candidates be considered. The Mansfield Rule, which was named after Arabella Mansfield, the first woman to be admitted to bar in the US, required that firms affirmatively consider at least 30% women, people of color, LGBTQ+ persons, and persons with disabilities for leadership, governance, and equity roles in law firms and partnership. David noted that there are very few women and minorities in equity partnership roles. He also commented that in the Mansfield Rule’s latest iteration, disability was added and seen as a welcome development for firms to move beyond most obvious characteristics of diversity.
First generation status and socioeconomic diversity
David explained that the term “first generation” has many different meanings – it can signify that you are the first person in your family to hold professional occupation, the first person in your family to become a lawyer, or the first person in your family to graduate from college. David noted that firms are focused on first generation status because it is an important type of socioeconomic diversity that has historically been underrepresented in the legal profession. Traditionally, law is seen as an elite profession and those who enter the field often come from families with lots of lawyers or other professionals. Furthermore, because law school is so expensive, people who go to law school often come from privileged backgrounds. David proudly noted that his alma mater Yale Law School made a pointed effort to increase first generation status in its incoming 1L class this year, with 24% of its admitted students coming being first generation professions and 11% being first generation college students.
David explained that it has long been understood that veterans offer valuable perspective and experience. He also noted by focusing on veterans and diversity, it is a means of advancing socioeconomic status. Fewer people from the highest quintile of income in the US are choosing to serve in the military. David explained that once the draft was abolished, the military doesn’t look like the rest of America and people who joined the military often did so because they didn’t have other options. David stated that veterans provide an underrepresented perspective especially in large law firms and elite law schools
Intellectual diversity or diversity of ideas
David remarked that as lawyers, we need people who think from different perspectives. He acknowledged that in the legal world and large law firms, things tend to skew left. David cautioned that he did not mean to argue for affirmative action for conservatives, but rather, he asserted that the political views that a person holds should not be used to deny them employment unless they are truly extreme. David further explained that we can debate what counts as extreme, what is considered acceptable discourse is shrinking, but the ability to have a good faith debate on a topic such as affirmative action should not be lost.
David concluded his discussion by indicating that whether or not law firms agree with the business case for diversity, they are forced to care because their clients are subscribing to these views and are increasingly wanting to see diversity in handling their legal work. Law firms understand that it’s good business and they can acquire more corporate clients if they consider diversity. David observed that law firms are increasingly putting their money where their mouth is. In the past, they would talk about diversity being important and not take any action. But now, more law firms are taking a stronger lead. They are hiring Directors of DEI and they are changing their approach to hiring. Many firms are willing to wait to see more diverse candidates before making a hiring decision. They are making adjustments and taking diversity seriously.
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