Are law firms ignoring their most critical assets?

Posted by Catherine Krow, managing director of diversity and impact analytics at Legal Futures Associate BigHand

Krow: Firms must act intentionally to achieve meaningful change

Surprisingly, law firms are not adequately addressing their clients’ demands for improved diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Despite ranking high in importance for 42% of law firms in 2021, only 26% considered DEI a top priority in 2022. This number dropped even further in 2023, with a mere 21% placing DEI among their top three staffing concerns in a recent BigHand survey of 825 law firm leaders.

These drops are particularly astonishing because clients are increasingly requesting DEI data for staffing matters, a trend reported by 85% of firms surveyed in 2023, up from 61% in 2022.

Given the growing client demand and the abundant evidence linking diversity to business success, why are law firms not prioritising DEI?

Studies consistently show that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones in innovation, problem-solving, and decision-making. Diverse groups offer particular advantages when strategising for the future and addressing emergencies, as members tend to think about their reasoning more critically and approach facts more objectively.

In an already highly competitive industry, law firms that ignore client demands disadvantage themselves and risk alienating clients who prioritise equity and inclusion.

Could the focus on advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence cause law firms to overlook their most critical assets, their people and clients? While technological advancements can improve efficiencies, they should not overshadow the importance of firm employees and the relationships lawyers build with clients.

The truth is that the path to a more diverse and inclusive legal market is wide open, and firms must act intentionally to achieve meaningful change.

Start resourcing matters with a DEI focus

To start focusing on DEI initiatives, firms are implementing resourcing technology and data-driven staffing models that promote equal opportunities and diverse workforces.

It begins with prioritising equity in recruitment and retention efforts. Seeking candidates from different backgrounds and cultivating an inclusive culture can significantly enhance a firm’s reputation while bringing diverse perspectives and experiences to the table.

Next, legal resource management software can bring transparency to work allocation processes. When resourcing matters, decision-makers can identify the best-suited talent from across the firm, regardless of location or practice area, and bring visibility to historically under-represented individuals who may fall through the cracks when ‘hallway staffing’ is the norm.

They rely on metrics and objective assessments to evaluate an individual’s qualifications and availability rather than assigning work based on subjective factors that are prone to unconscious bias. Matching the ideal lawyers to each matter leads to efficiencies that please clients and drive business growth.

Then, with a data-driven approach to DEI, firms can track key metrics such as representation at different levels, equal access to career advancing work, and employee satisfaction. Moving talent development and retention from an anecdotal to an evidence-based approach removes speculation and helps firms identify key opportunities for improvement.

While other firms lag behind, prioritising DEI initiatives and investing in resourcing and analytics technology can significantly enhance your firm’s reputation and competitive advantage.


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