How law firms reacted to racial injustice and the COVID-19 pandemic
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Nearly three-fourths of surveyed law firms launched new programs to address racial injustice after Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the death of George Floyd last year, according to a new study.
The aim of the study was to find out how COVID-19, civil unrest and the economic crisis affected law firms’ efforts to address professional development and diversity, equity and inclusion, according to a press release summarizing the findings. The study was conducted by the NALP Foundation and the National Business Institute.
The data shows that law firms actively engaged with the pressing issues facing the nation, according to a summary of the findings distributed to journalists. The study, available for purchase here, relied on information from 86 leading law firms of all sizes from differing regions.
Among the study findings:
• 73% of firms launched new programs to address racial injustice and civil unrest as a result of Black Lives Matter protests.
• 43% of firms say they redeployed staff or attorneys to work on efforts to address diversity, equity and inclusion. Seventy percent said their diversity and inclusion team’s responsibilities increased after March 2020.
• 69% of all firms reported an increase in the diversity and inclusion team’s visibility and clout among firm leadership as a result of civil unrest.
• 70% of law firms said diversity and inclusion, new lawyer integration and orientation and performance evaluations were high professional development priorities. Other high priorities were mental health and well-being (cited by 63%) and cultural cohesion and integration for remote workers (cited by 62%).
• 54% of firms said mental health and well-being was a top challenge.
• 52% of firms said developing and maintaining relationships between partners and junior associates was a top challenge.
• 43% of firms identified the lack of boundaries resulting from working remotely as a top challenge.
• 52% of firms added new leadership programs as a result of civil rights demonstrations, but only 18% did so as a result of the pandemic.
The study asked law firms to list their best professional development experiences.
One law firm said it hosted multiple firmwide discussions following the death of George Floyd and others while in police custody. The result was a recommendation to form a dedicated team to respond to “socially impactful events.” Another firm hosted a town hall series to focus on training and education regarding racial justice concepts. Another worked with its diversity and inclusion team to produce programs on unconscious bias.
Other steps taken to address diversity and inclusion included new task forces, a plan to help local government create better relationships between police and the public, and creation of pro bono opportunities to help advance equality and justice. Several law firms joined the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance, and several gave financial support to civil rights organizations.
Several law firms also listed well-being and mental health programs as among their best experiences. One firm launched a mental health and well-being affinity group with a video event in which four partners shared stories of challenges faced by themselves or family members. Another hosted five events with training on resiliency skills.
Several firms also said virtual programs helped support firm culture and enhance connections between offices.
Asked to name their worst experiences, several law firms described technology glitches, particularly early in the pandemic. Some described problems bringing in or mentoring new associates.