Diversity and inclusion in the legal industry is a problem that is often discussed but rarely addressed in meaningful ways. At Priori, we’re well aware that many leading law firms are not very effective at fostering diverse talent, particularly in leadership positions. We also know that this is a significant concern for many in-house legal departments.
Last January, almost 200 General Counsels released a letter decrying the lack of diversity among the law firms they hire. The signatories promised to focus outside counsel spend on law firms that “manifest results with respect to diversity and inclusion, in addition to providing the highest degree of quality representation.”
We’re proud of these industry leaders (some of whom are our clients), and we want to help in-house counsel be an active part of the solution. But in order to do so, they should reconsider defaulting to BigLaw firms for projects big and small. Here’s why.
Minorities make up 16.9% of attorneys at Am Law 200 firms. In 2017, women accounted for only 22% of partnership positions. The hourly work expectations of many BigLaw firms mean that being present for a family life is all but impossible; many partners, male and female, have stay-at-home spouses. And the pyramidic structure of these firms means that change happens glacially, leading women and employees of color to opt-out of long-term leadership tracks.
Small firms are much more likely to be diverse, because they suffer less from the entrenched hierarchical and bureaucratic issues of larger institutions. Many of these firms (including those in our attorney network) have been built with an eye toward producing diverse senior leadership and reaching diversification goals more quickly. And many small firm attorneys have excellent experience, whether from BigLaw or established corporations.
For what it’s worth, many corporate departments are starting to focus on MWBE’s (Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises). Through NAMWOLF’s Inclusion Initiative, for example, large corporations have spent over $1.6 billion with MWBE law firms since 2010 (the total US legal services market is $437 billion).
It is simply not enough. In-house legal departments still understandably rely on the BigLaw brand name because they can’t efficiently find diverse firms and ascertain the quality of their services. Data can change this.
At Priori, we’ve collected thousands of data points on the attorneys in our network, all the way down to the agreements they’ve negotiated and against which counterparties. We also collect feedback on how our attorneys perform with Priori clients. By using our network to find outside counsel, in-house teams have the right information at their fingertips to make better informed hiring decisions. No longer does firm name need to be a proxy for quality.
Some of our clients come to Priori for the explicit purpose of increasing the diversity of their outside counsel bench. Others come to us simply to find boutique firms for other purposes (cost-savings, local counsel, better client service) but discover after using Priori for a while that they are spending far more than ever before with diverse- and women-owned firms.
We’re proud to be using data to unleash the power of small, diverse firms and connect them with incredible clients. By accessing our talent pool, in-house teams can promote diversity in an industry that has fallen far behind.
Want to learn more about our network? Visit https://www.priorilegal.com/how-it-works.