A new survey by Calibrate Legal has found that law firm business services professionals have a generally positive view of their firms efforts to foster Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) — but a significant number of respondents remain skeptical.

In February 2021, Calibrate sent an online survey to a population of professionals working in business services departments of law firms.   Recipients were asked to indicate their level of agreement with the following six statements:

  1. My firm cultivates an environment that values differences, fairness, and inclusion.
  2. At my firm, I feel empowered to talk about barriers to inclusion, and the need to hold myself and others accountable for  removing them.
  3. My firm takes action to decrease bias and discrimination in the workplace.
  4. My firm recognizes multiple forms of diversity (including educational attainment.
  5. My colleagues, including attorneys, show open and welcoming behavior.
  6. I have been included in my firm’s D&I initiatives/projects/training programs.

Calibrate received a total of 256 valid responses to the survey.  Eighty-one percent of the respondents were in Marketing & BD, with the balance divided between Administration, Human Resources, IT, Finance, Knowledge Management and senior leadership roles.

In aggregate, 68 percent of respondents stated that they were generally positive about their firms’ DE&I policies and programs.

Respondents with junior-level job titles (specialists, coordinators, assistants) were much less positive in their answers.  Forty percent of these respondents indicated that they disagreed with the statements, versus only 23 percent of the total respondent population.

Respondents were least positive about Statement #4:

My firm recognizes multiple forms of diversity (including educational attainment, socioeconomic background, and diversity of thought in addition to race, gender, age and sexual orientation)

Only 55% agreed with this statement and 34% disagreed (versus 68% agree/27% disagree for all questions in aggregate).

Negative Comments Prevailed

The survey allowed respondents to add free-text comments to each question. About one-third of all respondents chose to add comments.

Respondents who commented showed a much higher level of disagreement with the statements (36 percent disagreed) than the full respondent population (only 23 percent disagreed).

The comments tended to be quite negative in tone.

  • The majority related to lawyers being prioritized over staff.
  • A large number of commenters cited the need for more support and effort needed in D&I efforts.
  • Many mentioned there were no actions, change or accountability and others feel frustrated by the slow progress of change.
  • Some comments referred to hypocritical actions of leadership — i.e., saying one thing and doing another.

As one respondent stated, “I’ve not seen anything to suggest more than lip service to the cause”.  And another, more colorfully: “Lawyers rule, everyone else drools”.

Commitment to Action Needed

“We were a little surprised at the generally positive views that the business services respondents presented in their answers,” said Calibrate Legal CEO Jennifer Johnson.

“However, junior professionals were significantly more negative than those in senior roles.  And there is clearly a vocal minority — almost one-quarter of respondents — who feel quite negative about their firms’ DE&I efforts and are skeptical about whether things can change.  We believe firms need to demonstrate a commitment to action on DE&I in order to win over these professionals.”

A copy of the survey report is available from Calibrate Legal.  You can download it using the button below.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

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