It has often been said that a major problem in law firms is the inequality of representation within them. Law firms are traditionally dominated by white males, and partnership is often the exclusive domain of the senior white male. Many firms will adopt hiring policies with the view to promote more diversity within the workplace. However, these policies rarely have the desired result, as over time many of the female or minority lawyers move on and the status quo remains.
In my opinion a few of the keys to maintaining diversity within a firm are relationship building, and retention strategies. It is all well and good to have a policy in place to promote diversity when hiring individuals, but if they do not stick around and work their way up in the firm these strategies cannot be seen as functional. A major component of keeping people around is in the environment that is created and the relationships that are built after those individuals are hired. If the senior associates and partners of the firm are not open, welcoming, and evenly distributing the quality work amongst a diverse group of articling students and junior associates there will likely be a disconnect between those parties who are not getting equal treatment. The more established lawyers within the firm must also be sure to make a concerted effort to avoid falling back into the traditional cycles and following the biases that have perpetuated the status quo. A firm must be sure to maintain this type of equal-opportunity working environment as much as possible to establish the relationships required to keep this diverse group of young lawyers happy and productive. If people begin to feel like they are not getting equal treatment they will likely begin to feel unappreciated, and begin to look for other opportunities. However, if they are getting the quality work and building strong relationships they will be more likely to stick around and become productive team members.
In conjunction with the building of relationships firms must also have strong retention strategies. Certainly some, if not all, of the items mentioned above will also play a role in such strategies. On top of building relationships and making young lawyers feel like valued members of the team, the firm must also have a plan for keeping those parties around for the long term. A number of things can make up this plan, and again can include much of the items noted previously. For instance with younger employees a retention strategy could involve incorporating some form of flexibility in their future with the firm in the event that they would like to start a family. As most people know having a young family can make it difficult to be in the office full time. Therefore thinking ahead and creating a flexible face-time policy can be effective in retaining those young lawyers as well as building a respectful and open working environment moving forward. A similar policy can also be used as more senior lawyers age, and hope to wind down their practices. It may be that these types of retention strategies can even help junior and senior lawyers build their relationships through a time-sharing type of system that maintains the flexibility that they desire while continuing to be productive. These relationships can also create significant learning opportunities for those young lawyers that choose to share time with senior associates and partners. Overall these types of policies can allow for the flexibility that is required to raise young families or transition towards retirement while still providing a meaningful contribution to the working environment. They can also promote the building of strong relationships and loyalty within the firm.
Although these suggestions are not a complete answer to the diversity and inequality issues that are currently at play in the legal community, they are certainly a step in the right direction. If firms can establish the type of environment that a young and diverse group of lawyers want to be a part of for the long-term they will go a long way to having their hiring strategies create truly diverse firms, as opposed to being merely hiring strategies without achieving true long-run effectiveness.