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In-House Counsel Can Lead the Way to a More Diverse Legal Profession

Law firm DEI initiatives are making headway. The summer associates of 2020 were the most diverse group ever recorded by the NALP. Representation for women and people of color at major US law firms continued to grow in 2021. 

Yet, much work remains. Since 2010, legal industry representation of people in minority racial and ethnic groups combined grew just 6%, according to the ABA, which said at this rate, it will take 30 years for the legal profession’s demographics to mirror those of today’s society.

As an in-house counsel, you are ideally positioned to promote your organization’s greater purpose of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) by influencing the outside counsel hiring process.

This article explains how legal spend management platforms can help in-house legal teams measure the diversity of the law firms they engage with and evaluate their progress over time. 

2 Ways Legal Spend Management Platforms Help Level-Up Outside Counsel’s DEI 

#1 They Make it Easier to Collect Outside Counsel’s DEI Data

Measuring your existing outside counsel’s DEI will help you understand their current diversity levels and which areas need greater attention. 

It’s important to note that when left on their own, law firms often send miscellaneous DEI metrics in various formats, making meaningful comparisons difficult. 

To avoid this, you’ll want to ensure outside counsel provides specific DEI measurements on:

  • Gender identity
  • Ethnic identity
  • LGBTQ+ identity
  • Disability status,
  • Veteran status

Legal Spend Management Platforms, like Brightflag, make this process much easier by including Diversity and Inclusion Modules. These modules act as centralized systems of record, storing the DEI information you collect and using that data to generate reports while maintaining the confidentiality of your law firm employees. They’re also capable of automating the survey process, allowing outside counsel to respond with a few clicks. Plus, your team avoids manually collecting replies and consolidating data.

Ideally, DEI modules are linked to the platform’s timekeeper module, meaning details of timekeepers that work for you are already recorded, and law firms don’t have to do duplicative work listing these out.

#2 They Help You Evaluate DEI Progress Over Time

Responses to DEI surveys are only a snapshot of how your outside counsel is doing at this moment in time. By digitally tracking and measuring several DEI variables within a legal spend management platform, you can see if your firms are committed to improving diversity in the long term.

Changing hiring practices takes time, and the data you collect from surveys isn’t meant to “call out” the law firms you work with. Instead, that data can help you to initiate conversations about the changes you would like to see made.

Legal spend management platforms help by making it easy to track outside counsel’s progress over time. For example, Brightflag’s DEI Module includes reporting on vendor diversity.

You can use this reporting to measure and acknowledge the progress outside counsel makes or, if needed, have a more serious discussion about how a lack of change might impact their future relationship with your organization.

More Ways to Incentivize Law Firm DEI In Outside Counsel

Legal spend management platforms give you the data and reporting you need to track DEI, but they alone aren’t enough. 

Below are some additional tactics you can take to improve diversity and inclusion.

Recommend diverse matter staffing. 

Let outside counsel know that, if possible, you would like them to staff your matters with a specific percentage of underrepresented professionals. If you are comfortable with it, you can set SMART goals (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related) for DEI performance.

Incentivize and improve law firm DEI.

Reward vendors for compliance by giving them more work. Also, consider rewarding broader efforts that outside counsel communicates with you, such as:  

  • DEI training and workshops and employee resource groups.
  • Minority mentorship programs and recognition of DEI work in partner compensation reviews.
  • Prayer spaces, lactation rooms, unisex restrooms, and accessible facilities.
  • Adoption of educational partnerships and community groups and causes.

Share feedback.

Make a difference personally by telling firm leaders when a diverse lawyer performs well. You can do this by ensuring that DEI is added to the agenda of regular firm relationship reviews. 

Spend this time sharing positive feedback with firms that walk the talk with diverse staffing and placing diverse lawyers in senior positions. Educate law firms on how they compare to peers. State where they lack representation among underrepresented groups and suggest specific remedies. 

Real progress requires the entire legal community to work together, and in-house legal teams are uniquely positioned to spearhead necessary change. The legal spend management platform you choose can play a role in helping to foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive legal profession. 

Contact Brightflag today to learn more about how the platform can help your legal team enact law firm DEI initiatives.

Barry O'Melia

Vice President, Product at Brightflag

Barry has 20 years of experience as a legal technology product leader. Prior to joining Brightflag, Barry spent four years at Relativity, the $3.6 billion leader in e-discovery and compliance software, where he led product for the legal hold, information governance, and data integration verticals.