Big Law firms, and the legal industry generally, have long engaged in dialogue regarding diversity and the retention of diverse attorneys, yet those often well-intentioned words have not produced enough tangible results. Over the past year, social dynamics and the exposure of longstanding racial injustice and systemic inequalities have enlivened people, and the legal community specifically, to realize that law firms must move beyond words and good intentions to intentional efforts with specific goals and accountability along the way. In addition to offering mere words of solidarity or acknowledgement of a pervasive issue in the legal profession, the time has come to say it with credit, origination and other monetary credit that is.
If Big Law firms want to align incentives and promote the retention of diverse attorneys, those firms should recognize the contributions of diverse attorneys with credit—particularly if the diverse attorney’s involvement with or staffing on the matter played a role in obtaining the work. While every law firm has its unique structure, policies, and practices that impact credit allocation, consideration of the impact of a firm’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) should be a significant part of the analysis. To promote DEI effectively, it must be engrained in the economic structure and fabric of an organization, not a side conversation or an afterthought. One of the most devastating setbacks to any organization’s DEI efforts is when talented individuals feel or sense that their faces and names are used to obtain the work, but their contributions are not truly valued—including with financial recognition. Equally devastating is the sense that certain persons are shut out from opportunities, and by extension monetary benefits, because they do not fit the demographic profile of those who historically have contributed to certain types of legal work. The only way to change this dynamic is to be intentional about providing opportunities, assigning the work, measuring all the contributions of diverse attorneys, and recognizing the value of those contributions through the equitable allocation of credit. Law firms must be willing to visit and re-visit their work allocation and financial policies and assess how they directly positively or negatively impact their DEI efforts.