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LegalNovember 17, 2023

Navigating inclusivity: Insights from law firm and corporate legal experts

At the 2023 ELM Amplify User Conference in October, we were very fortunate to welcome two distinguished guest speakers to our session Navigating Inclusivity: Law Firm Diversity Insights: Nikki Lewis Simon, Shareholder and Chief DEI Officer at Greenberg Traurig, and Eliana Toledo, Project Manager, PMP Legal Operations, Marsh McLennan Companies. The discussion was moderated by ELM Solutions Director of Consulting, Amy Choe.

Here are three of the essential insights our guests shared with attendees.

Diversity remains a focus

The presenters discussed surveys that have revealed almost half of law departments have diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies in place with specific targets identified. About the same amount incorporate diversity goals in their outside counsel selection process. These surveys also reveal that there are challenges, however. Many companies are not satisfied with the results they are seeing and are making efforts to improve them.

There is also an effort by some law departments to move beyond simple diversity counts and enact more meaningful, inclusion programs. The speakers defined some terms:

  • Equality: On the most basic level, equality is the assumption that everyone benefits equally when provided with the same support.
  • Equity: Equity recognizes that, even with the same support, those who do not have as much opportunity to participate will not get the same benefits as their peers.
  • Justice: To provide people with the same opportunities – by removing barriers that might otherwise stop them from benefitting from support – is justice.

Marsh McLennan is working to progress from equality to justice. They are using data-driven decision-making in an effort to remove unconscious bias and other obstacles to advancement. They are using technology that allows attorneys to verify diversity information and make decisions based on it. As with any technology, some are more eager to use it than others, but the legal department is leveraging its change management practices to increase awareness and adoption over time.

Communication with firms is critical

When working with outside counsel firms toward diversity goals, legal departments must communicate their expectations – and not just once. Every member of the law department team who interfaces with the firm should be aware of the targets and processes and should communicate their importance to their contacts. The key is that anyone can start and further the conversation.

At Marsh McLennan, the Chief Operating Officer engages in diversity and inclusion. The attorneys also have these conversations with their law firm counterparts. Members of the legal ops team reach out to lawyers at the firms, as well. This helps the firms to understand what the requirements are and how they will get paid. By emphasizing these requirements, particularly on larger matters, the company is making improvements and moving toward its goals.

Data is the foundation of diversity

In order to have a successful program of diversity and inclusion, a legal department must track the right data and make it available to decision-makers when firms are being selected. When deciding which information to gather, keep in mind that it is generally good practice to track the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) categories. According to the EEOC website, these are “race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, and genetic information (including family medical history).”

In some cases, law firms have declined to provide this information. In the experience of our presenters, with conversation and discussion, these firms sometimes eventually agree and deliver at least some portion of the requested data. If the requirement to supply diversity data is part of the outside counsel guidelines in effect with a firm, it is worth pointing out that they have already agreed to share this information. The key is to have the conversation so that you can try to address the reason for their reluctance.

The emphasis that many companies have placed on DEI initiatives over the last several years has made diversity more of a focus for legal departments across industries. We are grateful to Nikki Lewis Simon and Eliana Toledo for joining us at Amplify and sharing their insights to help attendees improve their own companies’ results.

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