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Implicit/Unconscious Bias is Main Obstacle to Advancing Diversity and Inclusion at Law Firms According to Paul Hastings Bloomberg Big Law Business Report

November 16, 2016

New York – Like many of the industries they serve, law firms are focused on making substantial advancements in diversity and inclusion. However, according to a new report from Paul Hastings, a leading global law firm, and Bloomberg BNA’s Big Law Business, “Diversity and Inclusion: Annual Report,”  a substantial majority of law firm respondents – 69 percent – say that the most prevalent challenge in advancing diversity and inclusion at their law firms is implicit and unconscious bias.

“This means that those not directly involved in diversity and inclusion within a law firm either do not realize it’s an issue or think their firm’s diversity and inclusion strategy is effective,” according to the report.

Other notable obstacles to advancing diversity and inclusion in law firms identified by the report include: lack of diversity on the executive committee (48 percent), lack of successions planning for institutional client relationships (46 percent), not getting asked to go on clients pitches (45 percent), lack of diversity on compensation committees (41 percent), and clients not pushing for diversity (41 percent).

The silver lining is that a majority of both law firm attorneys (61 percent) and corporate attorneys (56 percent) deem diversity and inclusion important to their firm or legal department. According to the survey, law firms and corporations have similar diversity and inclusion goals/targets in place. However, 59 percent of corporate in-house attorneys said they do not know whether their outside counsel has diversity and inclusion strategies in place.

“At Paul Hastings, diversity is not just about doing the right thing, it’s smart business,” said Greg Nitzkowski, the firm’s Managing Partner and a member of its Diversity Committee. “This report highlights the major ground that law firms still need to cover in order to make substantial change. It also uncovers that law firms need to do a better job of discussing this topic with clients,” he added.

Other notable findings in the report include:

  • 45 percent of respondents cite a lack of awareness of the business case for diversity
  • 45 percent of respondents indicate a lack of diverse role models
  • 76 percent of law firm respondents say pressure from clients is the biggest catalyst for change
  • 55 percent of corporate attorneys feel diversity and inclusion is an important factor in selecting outside counsel

Looking to the future, the report recommends:

  • Developing and clearly communicating the business case for diversity and inclusion at both firms and corporates
  • Ensuring everyone within the organization understands the plan for diversity and inclusion and has a role to play
  • Looking to monetary incentives to promote diversity and inclusion, with lower incentive payouts for not meeting diversity goals

The survey was conducted in the summer of 2016 and represents the views of 261 law firm attorneys and corporate counsel.

The release of this report follows the launch of the most recent installment of Paul Hastings’  series, Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Women in the Boardroom, an in-depth examination of the initiatives and movement underway in countries around the world to help close the gender gap on corporate boards.

Paul Hastings recruits the best and brightest, and works with a range of organizations to develop an elite, diverse talent base that guides the success of our clients. Notably, the firm’s 2016 class of new partners reflects the diverse and inclusive environment we are working to foster, with 50% of the class representing race/ethnicity and/or gender diversity. The firm is:

•Ranked Top 10 Best Overall Diversity — Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey Rankings
•Named a “Best Firm for Diversity” — The American Lawyer
•Named a Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality — The Human Rights Campaign for scoring a 100% on the Corporate Equality Index

At Paul Hastings, our purpose is clear — to help our clients and people navigate new paths to growth. With a strong presence throughout Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the U.S., Paul Hastings is recognized as one of the world’s most innovative global law firms.