This year’s National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) Annual meeting took place last week in sunny Los Angeles, attracting some of the best legal minds from all over the U.S. It was a star-studded event, kicking off the same night as the 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. In between celebrity sightings, attendees arriving on Sunday took part in the traditional Amazing Race scavenger hunt around the city – getting to know their fellow attendees and see some of the sights around the city.
Legal Supplier Diversity: More than Just Lip Service
The event formally kicked off on Monday morning with an inspirational talk from keynote speaker Vernā Myers, Vice President, Inclusion Strategy at Netflix. Myers set the tone for the conference, calling upon attendees to level up their diversity and inclusion programs, noting that “good intentions and training are not enough; you have to challenge your processes and hold leaders accountable.”
What followed were a series of incredible talks, continuing legal education sessions, and workshops on topics ranging from pay equity and workplace bullying to data privacy and the internet of things. For a quick recap, watch the video - or continue below for our top takeaways from the event.
Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession: A Battle Worth Fighting
The legal profession remains one of the least diverse in the nation. Women make up just 35% of those in the legal profession and just 18% of equity partners in private practice. The picture is even bleaker when it comes to racial and ethnic diversity, with just 5% of active attorneys identifying as Black or African American, and 5% identifying as Hispanic or Latino.
While no single industry can be responsible for advancing the mission of diverse, inclusive workplaces alone, the legal industry’s role is of particular importance given its focus on justice and equity before the law. Although some progress has been made in recent decades, we’re far from equality and there is much work still to be done.
The legal industry – like the film and entertainment industry and many others in the news recently – is at a crucial inflection point. Lawyers looking to do something, should do something – anything. As Myers stated in her keynote: “The worst thing we can do is to sink into a morass that ‘what we’re doing is not enough.’ You can do something.”
Those at law firms may consider mentorship programs and mandating diversity and inclusion programs in leadership. Those on the in-house side should consider diversity as a critical factor when sourcing for outside counsel, legal suppliers, and eDiscovery providers.
“It’s easy to include people who talk like you, look like you, and have the same values as you,” Myers said. “But if you're trying to be successful around the world, that won't work.”
While no single industry can be responsible for advancing the mission of diverse, inclusive workplaces alone, the legal industry’s role is of particular importance given its focus on justice and equity before the law.
Just Because It's Not Illegal, Doesn't Mean it's Right: Workplace Bullying
Did you know that more than 60 million Americans are affected by workplace bullying? And in the legal industry, destructive workplace behavior may often be written off as “just part of the job,” and something law firm associates must put up with in the name of “toughening up.” Particularly when high-performing employees are the perpetrators, bullying may even be explicitly tolerated.
“We in the legal industry have a high tolerance for some bad behavior historically,” said Stacy Fode, Managing Partner at Brown Law Group. “However, much is now coming to light at last. We’re starting to see more and more law firms faced with lawsuits from employees at every level.”
However, the results of workplace bullying in and outside of the legal industry are staggeringly detrimental to productivity: Lost opportunities, higher turnover, lower morale, lower profits, and ultimately an increased risk of unethical practices, financial risks, and litigation exposure.
While there are no current bullying laws nationwide, there is model legislation in most states, and cases are often prosecuted under a range of existing laws. Savvy law firms and legal departments should act proactively to implement systems and processes that get in front of workplace bullying.
"Be proactive in planning," said Nicole King, General Counsel for the Los Angeles Chargers. "Before you face a complaint, decide what tools you'll need and what resources you'll need so you can gain organizational buy-in, respond appropriately to the victim, and enforce zero tolerance."
Pay Equity: Coming Soon to Legislation Near You
Pay equity isn’t just the law of the land given the Federal Equal Pay Act and its state corollaries, it’s also the right thing to do. However, the Equal Pay Act has not done much to help narrow the pay disparity gender gap.
Innovative states are enacting new laws to help narrow that gap – including rules to restrict employers’ ability to ask about prior compensation in an attempt to stop the perpetration of existing pay gaps.
Lawyers practicing labor and employment law must work to understand how to identify pay equity gaps – and potential claims – as well as how to identify legal risks and advise their clients on deploying risk-mitigation sourcing, hiring, and compensation strategies.
Even lawyers outside the labor and employment space will do well to learn more about pay equity legislation as the legal industry is not without blame for perpetrating pay equity gaps. In-house attorneys should factor in pay equity when sourcing diverse outside legal counsel and legal service suppliers – and law firms should follow suit.
Diversity Conversations Worth Having
The legal industry is indeed at an inflection point, and we hope that NAMWOLF attendees will continue the conversations back at their firms, organizations, and workplaces. We’re proud to support the work of women and minority-owned law firms, and NAMWOLF. It’s been a joy to watch the organization grow and to help advance the cause of reaching equity in the legal realm.