During tough economic times, diversity and inclusion initiatives aren’t always a top priority for law firms and legal departments. But it’s especially important for firms and companies to make sure they’re hiring, promoting and retaining diverse talent in a downturn, according to speakers at this year’s Business Law Institute.
The presentation, “Recession Calls for You and Your Business Clients to Double Down on Diversity,” was held online on Sept. 10 as part of CBA-CLE’s annual business law conference. The webcast offered up lessons from the last recession and highlighted processes legal industry employers can implement to ensure underrepresented groups don’t lose ground when the economy hits a rough patch.
“I think diversity is important to the legal profession for three reasons,” said speaker James Sandman, general counsel for District of Columbia Public Schools and president of Legal Services Corporation, which funds civil legal aid programs for low income people.
“First, I think it’s a societal issue. Second, it’s a client service and client relations issue. And third, it’s a quality issue,” he said.
Diversity is important as a societal issue because perceptions of the justice system are affected by whether judges and lawyers look like the people in the communities they work in, Sandman said.
When it comes to client relations, he said, most organizational clients are much more diverse than the law firms and lawyers representing them. “And that’s an issue. People need to be able to relate to those who provide professional services to them,” Sandman said.
Finally, studies show diversity leads to better decision-making and creativity because it brings together people with different backgrounds and perspectives, he said.