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April 1, 2010

Law Firm Diversity Planning on a Shoestring

From YourABA, March 2010

With the struggling economy shrinking law firm budgets, diversity programs are sometimes the first to go. Law firms may cut diversity-related initiatives without realizing the negative, long-term effects. A diverse bench and bar stimulates trust in the law from a public perspective. From a business standpoint, diversity can contribute to your firm’s bottom line.

A recent report by the _—“Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Next Steps”—suggests that, while budgets may shrink, your diversity initiatives don’t have to suffer. There are many ways to maintain diversity programming in your firm without breaking the bank. Here are a few tips:

Engage
The report suggests finding ways to engage senior members of the firm as vocal and visible champions of inclusiveness. A committee is just one of many ways to incorporate senior members. Committees can oversee diversity recruiting, mentoring and professional development, along with provide natural networking opportunities. This no-cost effort demonstrates commitment to diversity—starting at the top.

Research
It is easy to overlook the research aspect of planning, but its role is critical, offering insight into past successes and failures. Original research and planning can be time consuming and costly, but secondary research is a way to obtain the same information at a fraction of the cost—often it is free. Using secondary research, you are simply gathering relevant information from studies that have been conducted by other organizations. “Diversity in the Legal Profession” is a good place to start. And Google and other search engines are always a great place to gather information from a variety of sources.

Assign
One of the quickest and most inexpensive ways to see your firm’s diversity-sensitivity at work is to ensure that lawyers from underrepresented groups receive access to high-profile client assignments. Not only does this establish goodwill within the firm, but it also is another way to demonstrate your firm’s commitment to diversity.

Participate
Participating in activities geared toward under-represented groups is a great way to stay highly involved in diversity planning with minimal costs. Send firm representatives to recruiting events at schools with diverse populations. Also, hosting or participating in town halls, retreats and other events for minority lawyers shows your firm’s commitment to diversity.

Reward
Compensation is typically an indicator of performance. Tying compensation to each staff person’s advancement of your diversity goals is a surefire way to get your entire staff on-board and involved with your mission.

Overall, diversity planning does not have to involve a significant financial contribution. Instead, it requires a solid commitment. “In the 21st century, the legal profession faces no greater challenge than the imperative to advance diversity throughout our ranks. It is incumbent upon each one of us to do something that will make a real difference,” said Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Ellen F. Rosenblum, chair of the ABA Presidential Commission on Diversity, one of several association entities involved in the diversity report.

For ideas on how to get started, visit the ABA Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity’s resource page or the Presidential Diversity Initiative page. A copy of the complete “Diversity in the Legal Profession” study can be found here.

Law Firm Diversity Planning on a Shoestring” is from the March 2010 issue of YourABA, a e-newsletter for ABA members.