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Diversity and Inclusion for Legal Employers

It is encouraging to see legal employers taking a closer look at their practices and potential biases, with the goal of improving diversity and inclusion.  Employers are seeking not only to recruit a diverse workforce, but also to create a welcoming environment that will set up all individuals to succeed.

Drake Law alumnus Johnny Taylor (LW ’92), President of the Society for Human Resource Management, sets out the challenge in his blog post Breaking Taboos and Putting Race on the Table #TogetherForwardAtWork:

"Our new research report, released today, points to the striking divisions we’re experiencing in our workplaces around race. The report, The Journey to Equity and Inclusion, unveils critical disconnects between Black and White American workers.  Respect is an important benchmark for inclusion at work, and we found feelings of worth are correlated with skin color. All in all, only 18 percent of White workers feel they are not respected and valued at work. However, one-third of Black workers feel that way. HR professionals, who are generally more attuned to bias at work than others, were even more divided on the subject. Almost half of Black HR professionals feel discrimination based on race and ethnicity exists in their workplace, compared to just 13 percent of White HR professionals."

We hope the resources collected below will assist you in working toward greater equity and inclusion in the workplace:

Seeing, and Recognizing, the Problem

When people are taught how to be active bystanders to prevent or address concerning societal behavior there are two initial steps: you must not only see what is happening, you must also recognize that what you are seeing is a problem.

New Data on Racial Disparities in Lawyer Hiring Is 'Wake-Up Call' for the Profession ( The sunny news about the J.D. class of 2019’s overall 90% employment rate—the highest in a dozen years—obscures the troubling reality that white law graduates secured jobs at a significantly higher rate than their Black and Native American classmates. New figures on entry-level lawyers hiring from the National Association for Law Placement reveal that slightly more than 62% of 2019's Black law graduates secured jobs that require a J.D., compared with 80% of white law graduates. 

‘White, white, white. Then there’s me.’ A Black lawyer shares her experiences. (Boston Globe) The courtroom is crammed with people of color sitting in the spectator area and standing along the wall. The mostly white lawyers are packed into the jury box. Once a judge confused me with a tenant, and I had to say, “I am actually a lawyer.” Court officers have said, “Hey, you can’t sit here, this is for attorneys.” It’s disheartening. I laugh it off, but it’s uncomfortable and it’s awkward. I like to see the positive. I’m a new face and maybe they haven’t seen me before. But at the same time, implicit biases rear their head again. You’re so used to not seeing anyone like me.

In Their Shoes: Stories of Systemic Racism From the Legal Profession (Canadian Bar Association, National Magazine) They are also a reminder of how many candidates in law encounter that elusive phrase "firm fit” — one of the many examples of racism in the legal profession because, often, the decision-makers are non-BIPOC. These decision-makers, consciously or not, seek out candidates they can relate to on a personal level, meaning those who share similar socio-economic backgrounds, experiences, and values. Ultimately, the idea of firm fit has become a justification for the lack of BIPOC representation in the legal profession.

Partners in Study Gave Legal Memo a Lower Rating When Told Author Was Not White (ABA) A legal memo drafted with the help of five law firm partners helped a leadership consulting firm demonstrate unconscious biases in the workplace.

What About In-House or Corporate Legal Employers?


Curing the Corporate Racism Pandemic – 5 Actions for Companies to Take Now. ( A group of legal executives working to increase the numbers of Black general counsel in the Fortune 1000 spotlights the need for greater diversity in corporate leadership roles.

How In-House Counsel Can Increase the Ranks of Their Minority Outside Counsel (Above the Law) Candid conversations with GCs, Biglaw partners, and minority law firm owners — corroborated by even a cursory look at the data — lead to the inescapable conclusion that plans, policies, metrics, and mandates haven’t made much difference in the past 30 years.  What matters most are champions — lawyers committed to improving diversity regardless of their rank.

Eliminating Unconscious Bias in Legal Starts With an In-House Job Description ( Eliminating unconscious bias and getting more diverse candidate slates for in-house attorney positions begins in the description of a job posting. In-house legal recruiters told Corporate Counsel that making sure in-house job descriptions include air-tight requirements versus what is nice to have and to avoid specifications on law schools will help recruiters find a diverse slate of candidates.

What Else Should Legal Employers Know?

The White Bias in Legal Education. (Law School Café) “The most stunning finding, however, relates to minority students. Even after controlling for LSAT score, undergraduate GPA, college quality, college major, work experience, and other factors, minority students secured significantly lower grades than white students. The disparity appeared both in first-year GPA and in cumulative GPA. The impact, moreover, was similar for African American, Latino/a, Asian, and Native American students. What accounts for this disturbing difference? Why do students of color receive lower law school grades than white students with similar backgrounds?” Trendspotter: Big Law's Lack of Diversity Is Being Exacerbated by Its Lack of Creativity, Part I ( From continually crowding around the same shallow well for new hires to perpetuating ineffective and exclusionary professional development methods, the recently heightened scrutiny of Big Law's diversity efforts has laid bare the fact that too many law firms insist on doing things the way they've always done them—even after it's become abundantly clear those ways don't work. Trendspotter: Big Law's Lack of Diversity Is Being Exacerbated by Its Lack of Creativity, Part II ( One upside to the increased focus on how law firms are getting diversity wrong is the increased flow of ideas regarding how to get it right.

American Bar Association Resources


ABA Implicit Bias Initiative. Implicit bias is a growing area for research and discussion. Offered here are materials for further reading and review, both in the legal field and, to a lesser extent, in other disciplines as well.

ABA Implicit Bias 101. What Is implicit bias? | What you can do about it to enhance your career and benefit your organization

ABA Ally Toolkit. One of the 2015 signature projects of the ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is the How to Be an Ally Toolkit. “Allies” are some of the most effective and powerful voices of the LGBT movement. Not only do allies help people in the coming-out process, they also help others understand the importance of equality, fairness, acceptance and mutual respect.

ABA Gender Equity Taskforce. For decades, studies have demonstrated that women lawyers are not paid at the same level as their male counterparts. In August 2012, ABA President Laurel G. Bellows appointed a blue-ribbon Task Force on Gender Equity to recommend solutions for eliminating gender bias in the legal profession, with a principal focus on the disparity in compensation between male and female partners. Toward this end, the Task Force implemented the following series of projects to promote gender equity.

Moving Beyond the Illusion of Inclusion. Appreciating the Importance and Value of Inclusion in Creating a Diverse Profession. (ABA) “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” The legal profession remains one of the least diverse professions in the United States, so the question of diversity comes up frequently and is debated often by legal practitioners, law school professors, and diversity officers. Yet, at the present time, there is not that much figurative partying and dancing in the legal community.

What Other Tools Are Available?

Diversity Lab – Mansfield Rule. The Mansfield Rule, inspired by a winning idea at the 2016 Women in Law Hackathon, measures whether law firms have affirmatively considered at least 30 percent women, lawyers of color, LGBTQ+ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, formal client pitch opportunities, and senior lateral positions.

‘We Have to Succeed’: Law Firm Anti-Racism Alliance Holds First Summit ( With over 240 legal firms across the globe participating in the unprecedented effort around ending systemic racial injustice, there is optimism to be had and a lot of work to be done.

Struggling to Kick Off Diversity & Inclusion Efforts? Start With This Checklist.(Glassdoor) But even after you've decided that you'd like to focus on creating a workplace that is more welcoming and less homogenous, there's no easy solution. Between hurdles like unconscious bias, pipeline issues, a need to fill open recs as quickly as possible and limited (or zero) budget to spend on diversity and inclusion initiatives, many talent acquisition and HR professionals find themselves not knowing where to start. If that's a feeling you can relate to, it's time to check out Glassdoor's Diversity & Inclusion checklist. In this resource, we've come up with a handful of concrete actions that your company can take to build a more diverse and inclusive environment. Below, we've highlighted a few of the top tips - read on to learn more, and don't forget to download the full checklist for more info!

How to Talk About Race with Employees. (Glassdoor) This post is not entitled "How to Talk About Race TO Employees." It's never a voice from on high disseminating information. Like anything important, it's a two-way conversation; you have to say something, and you have to listen. But it can be daunting to broach any sensitive subject in the workplace. This post is a jumping off point, including some steps leaders can take, plus a framework for providing smart, thoughtful internal communication to their employees around the subject of race and racism in the workplace.

Drake University Social Justice Toolkit Check out the Toolkits for Action on Social Justice issues. The toolkits will provide you with common language, suggestions for reading and viewing, organizations you can choose to support, and tips/tools for Allies. 

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