Many businesses, including law firms, recognize the benefits in promoting diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workforce. Successful law firms will have attorneys from diverse backgrounds that better represent the clients and communities they serve.
What Are the Challenges for Smaller Firms?
Today, nearly every large law firm in the United States has a D&I department. With their wealth of resources, the big law firms can allocate significant amounts of time and money to diversity and inclusion efforts. Many of the larger firms have diversity directors with extensive training and experience, and that experience often commands hefty salaries that are not in the budget for small, mid-sized, and growing firms. Diversity directors can devote themselves full-time to addressing issues of diversity and inclusion in recruiting and retaining diverse attorneys and staff as well as guiding community outreach.
However, small-to-mid size law firms are sometimes challenged by the limited resources they can allocate to D&I efforts. To address these challenges, many law firms must depend on their own attorneys to take action to improve their diversity and inclusion efforts within their firm and their profession. Despite the limited resources, small and mid-sized law firms still have the capability to achieve a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture within their firms by taking a variety of steps.
Pursuing Diversity at RDM
To be dedicated to our clients we understood that we had to become advocates and make a commitment to diversity that promotes the employment and advancement of individuals with different backgrounds and experiences. While employing candidates with a variety of backgrounds is the start, we know that once an associate decides to work with us, it is our job to make sure that they receive adequate support to become a successful attorney.
To accomplish these goals, Rasmussen Dickey Moore conducted several listening sessions with our diverse associates to ask them what diversity, equity, and inclusion meant to them and how our firm could best serve them. These were not the easiest conversations to have. Having just elected our first Black equity member and having just one current female equity member, our firm still had work to do to reach our stated goals of creating equitable opportunities for younger and diverse associates. We could not be blind to the disparity at the leadership level and needed to confront it head on to consider strategies to bring about improved results for our firm.
RDM’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee
In 2019, Rasmussen Dickey Moore established our Diversity Committee. We had recently hired several new associates who represented the most diverse part of our law firm. Soon after, RDM expanded the scope of the committee and renamed it Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
To improve equity efforts, there must be a buy-in at every level of the firm. RDM attorneys Nate Lindsey and Justin Ijei were chosen to co-chair our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Nate Lindsey was previously the youngest member to be elected at the firm. Justin Ijei is our firm’s first Black equity partner. While neither Justin, Nate, nor our associates had any professional training in establishing or promoting DEI initiatives, the committee worked to define terms, discussed how to put words into action, and built trust to accomplish difficult tasks together in a transparent way.
Words into Action
As a result of our committee’s discussions and work, RDM is implementing several new initiatives in 2021:
- Renewing efforts to recruit and retain diverse candidates
- Creating a mentorship program to help with career development, aimed specifically at advocating for personal business development
- Developing opportunities for young diverse attorneys to network
- Celebrating diverse heritages, cultures, and religious practices through firm-wide education
- Training employees on the importance of DEI
- Collecting data and tracking the success of these efforts
Our leadership knows that it is imperative that these initiatives are effectively implemented. Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within the firm is not just a feel-good pursuit. Our clients, our communities, and our attorneys require progress towards a more just and equitable future, and that progress starts with us in our offices. RDM is excited to put these initiatives into practice and strengthen our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in 2021 and beyond.
How To Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Smaller Law Firms
All law firms, regardless of size, have the ability to foster an inclusive and diverse culture within their firm. While smaller firms may not have the deep pockets to implement the types of diversity programs that larger operations have, simple steps can be taken to build a more inclusive and diverse firm.
Identify and Listen To Diverse Voices
The first step is to identify voices within your firm that may not have been heard previously. Ensure that attorneys and staff from diverse backgrounds have a seat at the table. Take time to listen to these voices and accept difficult constructive criticism. Acknowledge the challenges that attorneys of diverse backgrounds face within the firm, in the legal industry at large, and in life in general.
Develop Measurable Actions
It is easy to pay lip service to the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Likewise, it is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day business of your firm. But to ensure that your firm is moving in the right direction, a firm must commit to concrete and measurable actions and outcomes.
With your diverse attorneys taking the lead, determine what actions the firm can take to break down barriers to success. RDM’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee identified business development as an area where diverse attorneys could benefit from one-on-one mentoring and tracking results over time. RDM has implemented a quarterly mentoring program to supplement annual reviews where mentors will discuss with associates their current workload, client contacts, and plans for unique business development opportunities specific to their own career desires and skills.
Continue the Process
We realize the importance of building an inclusive culture at our firm and understand the time and commitment required to make sure the firm continues to progress. We highly recommend other small and mid-sized firms doing this work to continue to listen, measure the successes and failures of their efforts, and make the necessary adjustments to improve. Pursuing these efforts will be both challenging and rewarding. There is always room for improvement, and it is essential that we collectively continue to listen to diverse voices both within and without the office. Every firm, no matter the size, has a role to play in making the practice of law more equitable.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion.
RDM believes that small and mid-sized firms can also have an impact on building a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable legal industry. See what we’re doing to foster a diverse firm culture at RDM.