Litigation Section Blog: It's a New Year: Let's Expand the Focus on Diversity:

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  • Litigation Section Blog
    January
    17
    2018

    It's a New Year: Let's Expand the Focus on Diversity

    Lara Czajkowski Higgins

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    Law firms benefit from a diverse group of lawyers. Lara Czajkowski Higgins discusses the need to broaden the definition of “diversity,” the need to expand diversity efforts to support staff, and the many benefits of doing so.
    diversity

    It is 2018. As business owners, this is a time to evaluate the previous year, consider what was successful and what needs improvement, and to make a commitment to change.

    In my firm, the new year has prompted an upgrade to the computer system, an evaluation of the Information Security Policy, an analysis of the most and least profitable practice areas, and an assessment of bookkeeping practices.

    The new year evaluation has also included significant discussion about our firm’s diversity. But what exactly does that mean and why is that important? Your firm should be having that same discussion.

    Definitions of Diversity

    First, let’s consider: What makes a law firm diverse?

    Lara Czajkowski Higgins com lara prairieduchienlaw Lara Czajkowski Higgins, Villanova 2001, is a partner at Czajkowski Higgins & Tisdale S.C., Prairie du Chien, where she conducts a general practice focusing on insurance defense, municipal law, business and corporate matters, and real estate.

    Diversity can be found in many forms. Gender diversity. Racial diversity. Diversity of background and experience. Geographical diversity. Diversity of language, interests, and cultures. Diversity of the staff members, not just the lawyers.

    Much has been written on gender and racial diversity, and the benefits and challenges thereof.1 I suggest, however, that when evaluating the diversity of a law firm, we need to look even deeper. This more in-depth approach is particularly necessary for firms located in rural communities, where the pool of potential lawyers and employees is more homogeneous.

    Many Practical Benefits

    There are many practical benefits to a diverse law office.2

    Diversity of lawyers, staff members, and practice areas enable you to acquire clients. Each firm member is an ambassador for the firm. The firm members may participate in different community groups, mingle in different social circles, and live in different communities.

    The more diverse the firm’s members, the broader the reach to potential clients. In contrast, if all lawyers or staff members are members of the same country club, or church, or civic group, then the firm’s exposure to potential clients is limited to those same groups.

    Diversity of practice areas is obviously beneficial, as the more types of work a firm can handle, the more potential clients it can serve. Diversity of practice areas also allows the firm to represent clients in cases where the legal issues require expertise in multiple practice areas.

    The Strength of Many Perspectives

    A diverse firm also broadens your firm’s expertise. A firm with lawyers with different backgrounds, who have attended different universities, worked in different fields, and been employed in the public verses private sector, is a firm that has many different perspectives.

    When legal issues arise, or strategy discussions ensue, a diverse firm can pull from its collective knowledge and experiences and identify the best course of action for its clients.

    Support staff can also assist in this process. For example, as a firm that represents individuals in divorce actions in a farming community, we have regularly benefited from employing a paralegal who owned and worked her own beef cattle operation. We have likewise benefited from employing a paralegal who rides motorcycles, as she is able to provide insight when the firm defends cases involving motorcycle accidents.

    By having staff members with real world experience in a variety of areas, the lawyers working on these cases are able to ask better questions, identify hidden issues, and ultimately provide higher quality representation.

    Diversity can be found in many forms. Gender diversity. Racial diversity. Diversity of background and experience. Geographical diversity. Diversity of language, interests, and cultures. Diversity of the staff members, not just the lawyers.

    A More Attractive Firm

    A diverse firm is also able to attract more diverse employees.

    In a world where we are able to connect to just about anyone around the globe, people are used to interacting with others from different countries, cultures, and walks of life. People who appreciate and enjoy diversity will be drawn to an employer that reflects and embraces that diversity.

    Moreover, potential employees want a work environment in which they will be comfortable, challenged, and appreciated for the unique perspective each individual has to offer. When a firm implements and values a diverse firm culture, it makes itself more appealing to potential employees looking for that type of culture.

    First Steps

    Acknowledging the benefits of and aspiring to create a more diverse firm culture are the first steps towards creating that environment. Once a firm recognizes the importance of diversity and commits to making considerations about diversity a focus in recruiting and hiring, it must then establish practices to retain that diversity.3

    More on Diversity and Inclusion

    Diversity and Inclusion Makes You and Your Firm More Marketable and Profitable

    “Whether you’re a large company or firm, or a small firm, or even a solo attorney, anything you do to be more diverse makes you a better, stronger firm,” said Danielle White, legal counsel for Rockwell Automation, Milwaukee.

    Where and how do you start? See "A Game Changer: Diversity and Inclusion Boosts Bottom Line," in Feb. 7, 2018, InsideTrack.

    See Dana Tippin Cutler at the 2018 State Bar Annual Meeting & Conference

    Dana Tippin Cutler“We make better decisions and we come up with better ideas for policies and programs when you have a breadth of life experiences and viewpoints to serve not only lawyers, but also our clients.” – Dana Tippin Cutler, “Courage to Face the Future.”

    A past president of the Missouri Bar, Cutler created Courageous Collaboration, which provides a safe space for open and honest discussion among lawyers. Cutler will speak on starting a dialogue at your own firm at the 2018 State Bar Annual Meeting & Conference in June.


    This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Litigation Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Litigation Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.

    Endnotes

    1 See Tracy Jan, The Legal Profession is Diversifying, but Not at the Top, Washington Post, Nov. 27, 2017; Liane Jackson, Program Helps Law Firms See Progress in Gender Diversity – But is it Enough? ABA Journal, Oct. 2017; Michael Sander, Tara Klamrowski, and Rachel Sander, Gender Analytics: Using Litigation Data to Evaluate Law Firm Diversity, Patentlyo.com, Sept. 6, 2017; Daniella Isaacson, Big Law and Gender Diversity: On the Up or Stuck at Midlevel?, Law.com, July 24, 2017; Claire Zillman, Law Firms’ Gender Diversity Programs Aren’t Keeping Women in the Industry, Fortune, April 19, 2017; American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, A Current Glance at Women in the Law, January 2017.

    2 Diversity is beneficial to the legal profession on a theoretical as well as practical level. This blog focuses on the practical benefits of diversity, as an analysis of diversity on a theoretical level is outside the scope of this post.

    3 Retention is a topic that has received much attention and is ripe for another blog. See Catherine Roberts, How to Improve Gender Diversity in Law Firms, Legal Insight, Sept. 7, 2017; Renwei Chung, 3 Things Law Firms Must Understand to Increase Gender Diversity, Above The Law, June 30, 2017; Robyn Forman Pollack, 6 Factors Every Law Firm’s Gender Diversity Initiative Needs, Law360 June 14, 2016; Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris, How to Increase Gender Diversity in Law Firms and Legal Departments, Legal Executive Institute, Jan. 27, 2016.





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