Law Firms Must Improve DEI Efforts Through Objective Work Allocation or Risk Losing Clients

With tightening economic pressures, firms have shifted focus towards profitability. However, with 85% of firms reporting greater pressure from clients to improve their diversity, equity and inclusion, does the dial need to move towards DEI to retain clients?

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority in the UK, only 18% of the law firm lawyer population is made up of ethnic lawyers and only 5% are disabled, compared to 14% in the overall UK workforce. Although there are some improvements, similar data can be seen across the pond in the US where the NALP found that although 28% of law firm associates are minorities, only 11.4% make it to partner. Yes, this is a massive talking point in the legal industry today, but a lack of diversity and equitable opportunities is no new issue, with calls to improve diversity going as far back as 2008. With legal staff increasingly conscious about working for firms that champion diversity, and client demand for DEI increasing, how will firms respond?


Achieve better business outcomes  

With BigHand’s market insights revealing that 75% of firms report a decrease in client demand, it’s easy to assume firms’ priority should be placed on improving profit margins. Yes, profitability should be a critical focus but so should improving diversity. Data from McKinsey shows that in 2019, the likelihood of financial overperformance increased by 36% in diverse executive teams. The impact of building an inclusive workforce with diverse backgrounds should not be underestimated. To improve profit margins, firms need to look at the make-up of their workforce and review if they have the diverse range of experiences and perspectives that a successful team need. 

Every organisation, regardless of industry, wants the best talent. Without diversifying your recruitment pools to account for people from all backgrounds, can you confidently argue that you have the best available talent? Having the best legal staff and providing them with a platform to work on high-value and diverse matters in diverse teams, will only support in achieving better business outcomes ultimately driving profitability.   


Client demands are driving focus on equitable Resource Management  

 44% of law firms say reviewing DEI inclusion policies and initiatives is a priority in the next 12 months. More firms now understand the importance of updating their diversity policies by improving how they allocate work to provide equitable opportunities for all lawyers. 

The firms I’ve worked with are acutely aware it’s not enough to simply improve their number or percentage margins of diverse employees. Yes, having a diverse workforce is an important first step, but those lawyers must be given fair opportunities to work on career-enhancing matters. Unfortunately, they are often not.

Without Resource Management technology that provides real-time visibility into activity, firms lack the insight to track and monitor allocations and workloads which means bias, whether conscious or unconscious, can be difficult to track and therefore manage. Through Resource Management, firms can ensure that matters are being routed to the right resource based on data surrounding availability, skills/experience and out-of-offices and therefore matters are being allocated without bias, based on merit.

I have seen firsthand how firms that lack data into who is working on what matters can struggle to meet their DEI goals. Without intuitive functionalities like an Opportunity Board, that provides visibility for lawyers on opportunities that match their skillset and experience, firms are ill-equipped to make real lasting change in giving diverse fee earners access to work on matters that previously were unlikely to have been visible. 

While many can report at a high level who has worked on a matter, they have no understanding of an individual’s level of engagement or what workstream of the matter they have been working on. Firms urgently need to identify how equitably different pieces of work and tasks are allocated, including who tends to work on more client-facing work and who doesn’t.  

Are women typically being tasked with administrative work? Are the career-enhancing matters being disproportionately given to male associates? Is a lack of visibility hindering remote working lawyers from working on matters of interest? Without granular data on work allocation, these unconscious biases, even if unintentional, can become commonplace leading to talented fee earners pursuing career opportunities elsewhere. Through BigHand Resource Management enabled dashboards, firms can gain greater insight into what tasks their staff are working on, and if tasks are truly being allocated based on performance and suitability. With the cost of replacements already estimated to be between $200k-$500k and with increased scrutiny on profitability, firms cannot afford to miss out.  


For more insight into the data and market findings discussed in this article, read BigHand's full Legal Resource Management Insights here. 


About BigHand Resource Management

BigHand Resource Management is a legal work allocation tool that allows law firms to identify resources, forecast utilisation, manage workloads and add structure to career development for lawyers. The solution delivers real-time visibility of team availability, improved profitability on matters and supports DEI goals and equitable allocation of work.

BigHand Resource Management