Can data analytics unlock the potential for diversity in the law?

Posted by Milad Shojaei, a future pupil barrister at 33 Bedford Row and strategy & engagement director at Legal Futures Associate Casedo

Shojaei: Transparency and analytics have unlocked potential for diversity and inclusion

Data, equity and inclusion analytics can play a pivotal role in increasing diversity and inclusion efforts in the legal sector by enabling organisations to effectively identify the gaps in diversity, prioritise areas requiring action and measure progress.

Prior to the emergence of technology, lawyers struggled to analyse copious amounts of data effectively. With the introduction of enterprise legal management, process automation and e-billing, law firms now have better tools to manage data analytics to drive forward diversity performance.

Data is not only utilised to collate numbers but to also enrich diversity initiatives. It allows employers to reveal their position regarding diversity while also opening the discussion for improved inclusiveness.

The majority of law firms utilise a data collection system that collates information in Excel spreadsheets. The data is then processed to provide greater clarity and accountability. Although laborious and time-consuming, this system works.

However, although law firms and in-house legal departments are excellent at collating diversity data, they have effectively failed to do anything meaningful with it. A report by the Bridge Group, commissioned by the Legal Services Board, found that despite notable efforts made by the legal sector for diversity data collection, its implementation has been weak.

There is still a disparity in the profession as women and people from ethnic minorities continue to work in less senior and lower-paid positions.

What’s more, lawyers do not trust the purpose and use of data collection. The report also suggests that there was “considerable uncertainty” amongst legal professionals and that concerns were raised regarding the invasive nature of data collection questionnaires.

Regulators must consider being more transparent about the purpose and nature of data collection. This can be achieved through a clear and systematic approach that is supported through improved collaboration between regulators in the legal sector.

Moreover, law firms must look to enhance diversity and inclusion in their workforce by using the insights they already have. By endorsing and embracing a data strategy, legal departments can treat data like any other resource, aligning it with diversity objectives.

To make the most efficient use of existing data, legal leaders should take charge personally. IT departments may not understand the nuances required to transform legal department data analytics into valuable resources.

However, when forming a formidable data strategy, legal leaders can identify who they employ internally and externally; consider how legal services can be procured differently; define and track metrics for diversity, and assess what needs to change after conducting a comprehensive review.

Independent legal organisations around the world have already set a precedent for change. The Canadian Technology Law Association (Can-Tech) aims to increase diversity in tech law by improving representation at its board level, collecting more demographic data, integrating panel diversity policies and enhancing continual diversity and inclusion assessments.

Although organisations like Can-Tech have taken impressive strides in using data to promote diversity in the workforce, the majority of companies have been less active in their efforts.

The Measuring diversity for success report published by PeopleFluent outlined that organisations struggle to understand where to even begin. PeopleFluent surveyed 420 companies and discovered that only about 25% had employed a diversity plan, with many purely measuring gender or nothing at all.

So what should law firms do?

It is fair to say that greater transparency and data-driven analytics have crucially unlocked the potential for diversity and inclusion in the legal industry today. However, the sector must prioritise using the data with a clear strategy in mind.

Here are three crucial steps all law firms must take when preparing their diversity programme:

Step 1 – Refine the data and define the objective.

Law firms must better understand the purpose behind their diversity and inclusion initiatives if they are to achieve any meaningful change.

As it stands, most organisations are only measuring existing data, which inevitably results in limited progress. Diversity disparity is not a fixed matter, and different minority groups can find themselves increasingly under-represented as companies expand.

To avoid this, don’t limit metrics to data collated by existing systems and set out new objectives with extended diversity measurement to consider long-overlooked measures, including educational attainment, age, disability, sexual orientation, employment status and immigration status.

Step 2 – Measure progress

Law firms can use data as a tool that both drives diversity efforts and measures areas for improvement. This is increasingly difficult as capturing and tracking different data types without a defined and proven approach can be laborious and time-consuming.

But there are various types of metric practices that can improve diversity efforts and offer results that can be measured.

Law firms can now track retention data and workforce transition. This allows employers to become better informed when the employee retention rates of minority groups are higher or lower, allowing them to identify where the diversity issues emerge.

Step 3 – Set diversity goals

To influence change, legal leaders must understand what is expected of them to focus their efforts towards achieving essential diversity and inclusion goals.

When setting diversity targets, ambition is crucial as it can encourage change and help build momentum. But it is also vital that the goals are realistic enough that it does not curtail confidence and influence resistance.

This is easier said than done as diversity and inclusion is a complex and involved process, but it all amounts to following necessary advice: leverage the power of data to drive forward diversity goals in the same way you would deal with any other business challenge.

Doing so sooner rather than later will inevitably lead to a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workforce.


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