I’m back. Did I miss anything? Nothing was going on with me except life, work, college applications (for kid #1), the holidays, and now a bathroom remodel that has to get done before our annual Super Bowl Party.

But really what it came down to is that I haven’t found much to write about these days. Perhaps it’s the noise coming out of Washington and Hollywood, or maybe it’s because I have been too busy to put fingertips to keyboard. But then THIS story caught my eye in the LME:

Male Clients Disfavor Women Partners

When you read a headline like that, do you really need to click through to read it to know the answer? Can’t you just guess? It’s what it’s always about. Relationships.

From the article:

“People give business to friends,” says a former Big Law woman partner. “So, if a client is male—as most clients are—he will often give business to his frat brothers, law school roommates, golf partners, fellow club members, etc.” The only “fix,” she adds, “is to have women rise to more positions of power as clients.” (Women make up about 23 percent of chief legal officers in corporations, reports Acritas.)

I would add that, within the law firm, there is a network of relationships at play that limits the number of women and other diverse attorneys in senior partner positions for a multitude of reasons that have been discussed ad nauseam over the years. We get it.  And we’re still sucking at it.

The study’s author suggests that the solution is quotas, but that goes against my grain, so I have a better solution. And, since we’re in the legal industry, it has already been proposed, and there are THIRTY well-regarded firms on record doing it … so your firm  can do it too. 

The Mansfield Rule

For those sports fans out there, you know about the Rooney Rule, which the NFL implemented to aid in their diversity efforts. For all senior coach and other operations positions, the teams must also interview minority candidates. The Mansfield Rule is the law firm equivalent and comes out of Diversity Lab:

Diversity Lab announced today that it is partnering with 30 of the country’s leading law firms to pilot the Mansfield Rule. Named after Arabella Mansfield, the first woman admitted to the practice of law in the United States, the Mansfield Rule measures whether law firms have affirmatively considered women and attorneys of color — at least 30 percent of the candidate pool — for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, and lateral positions. The Mansfield Rule was one of the winning ideas from the 2016 Women in Law Hackathon hosted by Diversity Lab in collaboration with Bloomberg Law and Stanford Law School.

Why do we need a Mansfield Rule?

Every law firm should have their version of a Mansfield Rule because we, as a collective whole, suck at this. I’ve been working in legal marketing for nearly 20 years (this June, by the way, but that will be another blog post). We have been talking about diversity efforts since FOREVER, and not much has changed.

Inside the law firm, we really do wait for the client to push us to do change. Do I have to remind you how you kicked and screamed your way from WordPerfect to Word? We just had a computer and software upgrade, and I actually overheard an attorney lamenting about WordPerfect the other day.

But here’s something I haven’t heard spoken about: If the corporate counsel don’t have a diverse pool for general counsel positions, it starts with the law firms.

Why? Because this is where most attorneys go straight out of law school. You’re not getting to the GC office of a Fortune or NASDAQ anything without having been an associate at a law firm. (although that is changing slightly now that the general counsel’s office are starting to hire directly from law schools)

But it goes deeper. We need to explore the hiring process from the very beginning: Summer Associates.

Hiring at the Associate Level

We know that the first year applicants come from the summer associates pool. So we need to ask ourselves: Are we interviewing diverse candidates? Not just women, but other minorities and members of marginalized communities? Not saying quotas for hiring, just interviewing? If not, that’s where we have to start. More women are going to law school than men, yet, the numbers walking in our doors doesn’t reflect that. How are we to have a pool of diverse lawyers to elevate to partner and elect to leadership positions if we don’t hire them in the beginning, and create that pathway to leadership?

Expand the List of Law Schools

Seriously, I believe the legal industry is the only one which, with 20 years of experience, still wants to know where you went to law school, your class ranking, and GPA. Oh, and can you track down a copy of your transcripts?

Okay, maybe not 20 years, with a portable book of business, but for everyone else, pretty much “Yup.”

I am getting ready to tour colleges with kid #1. Guess which colleges we’re looking at? Only the ones offering her money. It is damn expensive to go to college, let alone law school, so why wouldn’t you go where you are being offered money? Yet, law firm after law firm will only interview from Tier 1 schools. May I suggest an expansion to that list?

Alongside every Harvard, NYU, Berkeley, or USC, is a Northeastern, Fordham, Hastings, or Pepperdine. Given a choice between paying a full or discounted freight at a Tier 1 school, or having a scholarship at a Tier 2 school, I would suggest that many incoming law students will choose to live closer to home and go for the scholarship.

Yet, during OCR season, are we interviewing at these schools? Perhaps a Mansfield Rule needs to be expanded to say that not only will we interview EQUAL numbers of diverse candidates, but that we interview EQUAL numbers from our local Tier 2 schools?

Blind Interviews

And while we’re at it, let’s redact the name of the law school, at least in the first round of interviews. We’re human. We are going to make judgments based on where someone went to law school. It happens. Don’t we like candidates who went to our alma mater just a little bit more? Get rid of that bias. Just redact the schools during the first round of interviews, and train the interviewers on how to interview around it. I have a feeling you will be pleasantly surprised to find out that a student from a local law school can be as equally intelligent, charming, and an all-around good candidate and cultural fit (after all, they come from your town) for a summer associate position as anyone from the ten schools out of which your firm current recruits.

Business Professionals

Let’s not forget our business professionals while we’re at it. How does the diversity look there? Lots of women in secretarial roles, I bet. How about expanding that to include men? Kinda like having male nurses. They do exist. Is the marketing department only filled with women? What about accounting? And IT?  Finance and technology are known to be very male-dominated, do you have women in your departments? Having a diverse body of employees throughout the firm creates a better environment for us all.

What About Inclusion

I love the above quote. It reminds me of a meeting I was in a few years back. About eight men and one other woman besides myself. Everyone was married. The men were all talking about how their wives handled this, or that, took the kids here or there. I finally leaned over to the other woman and whispered, “I am the wife.” She leaned back, almost giddy, “Oh my God, me too.”

It became very apparent this year how much I appreciate the other working women, wives, and mothers around me in senior executive roles. They know and understand my life and pressures. I find a camaraderie there.

And this is true for everyone. However, if we are going to create a welcoming pathway for women and other diverse members of our communities, we cannot stop with the letter of acceptance, or partnership agreement. We need to proactively take steps to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all members of the firm. Even the Vegans.

Don’t Forget the Vegans

Okay. The vegan line is a joke, but it’s a good example,

We have a growing number of vegans in our firm, and our firm is all about food. Seriously. Read our Glassdoor reviews.

With more and more vegans entering our workplace, we have had to adjust how we order food. I had observed on several occasions vegans walking in, looking at the lunch, appetizer or snack options, and the look of frustration that there was little to nothing there for them to eat.

I instituted a policy that 30-50% of what my department orders has to be vegan. It’s not hard, it just requires thought and a bit of creativity. I have encouraged the other food orderers to do the same.

Asked to step up to the challenge, all of our caterers and restaurants were fully capable of meeting this need. It might not have been on their menu before, but it is now, because we asked.

Token Steps are Not Enough

Token steps of welcome are not enough to make our diverse teams hum. Human nature comes into play. We naturally drift towards people who look and behave like us. As firm leadership, our job is to provide an environment and opportunity for inclusion to occur. Sure, it’s a bit forced, but it’s not going to happen without a gentle hand, and perhaps a strong push.