Diverse group of peopleIllustration of a diverse group of people.

In a recent online survey, we asked Texas Lawyer readers about the state of diversity in law firms and other legal organizations across the state.

Respondents for the most part said that diversity is a priority in their workplace, and not in a way that is just window dressing. A majority of respondents said that diversity is not considered when it comes time for promotions. The specific data from across Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas are below.

The numbers weren’t as revealing as the short answer responses from readers. Despite reporting that firms seriously pursue diversity, some readers were skeptical of diversity’s effectiveness in producing a productive and profitable working environment. Comments also warned about the dangers of engaging in what one reader described as “reverse racism” by focusing on diversity initiatives. Some of those responses included:

Response 1: No initiatives seem to work. We hire exclusively from the top part of the class at UT Law (top 5% w/o law review; top 10% w/ law review. We never see non-Asian minorities with these qualifications. If we decided to make exceptions, we would be creating a firm in which we have two different classes of lawyers. That seems unwise in the extreme.

Response 2: Acquire professional coaching for the diverse AND their older majority population superiors to help them bridge the diversity divide, build relationships, and develop the welcoming culture without which the diverse will never advance.

Response 3: Looking at all qualified candidates and not limiting ourselves to hiring white males.

Response 4: Focusing on merit rather than filling quotas. everyone is happier. no one wants to promote subpar attorneys more than they have to. focusing on merit rather than diversity keeps everyone happier.

Response 5: Diversity merely for the sake of diversity is a disservice to everyone.

Ambivalence about diversity aside, legal clients say they are interested in working with a diverse set of attorneys and are increasingly putting pressure on firms to meet those expectations.

Jennifer Reddien, director of diversity and inclusion at Haynes and Boone in Dallas, explained diversity and inclusion initiatives at firms and how they contribute to the bottom line. The following excerpts are taken from an interview with her and edited for length and clarity:

“The conversation is a lot more present and a lot more open. People are taking a stand now and realizing that it is important to clients,” Reddien said.  “It really does matter to them and not just because they want a diverse group of people, it’s that it’s been proven that diverse groups often come up with better financial outcomes.”

How a diverse team benefits outcomes >> Reddien: “I think it’s having diverse perspectives. Whether it’s geographic diversity, or gender, or whatever kind of diversity you might think of–people come from different places and different backgrounds, and so they may look at issues in a different way than someone who came from a different background than they did. … So you get all these perspectives together at once and you just have a lot more creativity than if you just have people of the same background in a room who may think the same way.

The importance of “inclusion” initiatives >> Reddien: “Say you’re in a group and it’s a diverse group, you want them to feel included and that their opinions are valued, too. What’s the point of having diverse thought if you’re not going to include what that person has to say?”

“You have someone who may come from a different background, but they’re included in the group, and they’re asked to give their opinions.”

“We include allies with everything we do. … for instance, we have a working parents subcommittee. You don’t have to be a parent to be in that group. If you’re an ally and you support working parents, we want you to come and be a part of that group as well.”

“I also think with the inclusion piece there’s a huge part of it that’s not maybe formal, but taking people to lunch for instance, or asking someone to go play golf. Things like that are a little bit more informal ways to help people feel included. Things that happen outside the firm as well as inside the firm. There are things we can do formally, but there are also informally things that can be done–people can be educated on those things that they might not otherwise think about.”

On recruiting diverse candidates >> Reddien:  “We’ve focused very much on recruiting. And we’ve been able to hire very talented and very qualified minor candidates.”

“We have an excellent summer program, a diversity scholars program that we offer that is very attractive to law students.” “I think it’s about attraction. It’s also about seeking out candidates, finding candidates who fit into Haynes and Boone culture. We are very targeted with our selections. We want people who are going to thrive here and who will really benefit from the culture. We describe it as a very collaborative environment.”

“There are a lot of qualified minority candidates out there. It’s not just something our firm can achieve. Other firms can achieve that as well.”

Final thoughts >> Reddien: “Another example that I think is key too is if you go to a meeting where you see someone new or someone who might look a little out of place, you can go up to that person and ask them to sit next to you at the meeting. Little gestures like that help quite a bit.”