Why Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Should be Important to Clients Choosing a Law Firm

Geometric illustration of multi coloured human figures - diversity in law firm concept

Many people, when they are considering a divorce, have opinions about the race, gender, and ethnicity of the attorney standing beside them in court. Unfortunately, often those opinions are based on stereotypes and assumptions. Instead, consider how hiring a firm committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion can benefit you in your family law case, and how engaging different perspectives can help you get a better result.

At NSSS&B, though our team of family law attorneys is all women, we vary in age, marital status, nationality, as well as both educational and religious backgrounds. Working in a community as diverse as Ann Arbor, our team has had the pleasure of representing clients from all walks of life. We are aware that an understanding of the backgrounds and cultures of a client is crucial to representing them to the best of our ability.

Does What Your Lawyer Looks Like Matter?

People have a lot of opinions about what their family lawyer should look like. For example, some people want to be represented by a woman to make them seem more relatable, or by a man who will fight for their case. Unfortunately, these opinions are often based on outdated assumptions and stereotypes about gender norms and how men and women are perceived in court.

Judges are people, and that means they have implicit biases just like everyone else. However, generally, what your lawyer looks like standing next to you in court isn’t as important as his or her ability to understand your goals and perspectives and communicate them convincingly to the court in the context of the law if they cannot be reasonably met using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms. The assumptions discussed above can be addressed in choosing a law firm with ADR litigation strategies that match your priorities and your style. That might mean choosing a firm that specializes in collaborative law and other non-adversarial options to keep conflict low. It could also mean selecting a lawyer with a reputation as a strong divorce litigator if you believe your spouse will be unreasonable or your case involves complicated legal issues. And it could mean selecting a lawyer with strengths in both ADR and litigation.

What Diversity Equity and Inclusion in Law Firms Looks Like

The legal profession has struggled to adopt diversity, equity and inclusion, despite recognizing the problem within its ranks. As of 2021, just over one third of all lawyers are women, but only one in seven is a person of color. Nearly 80% of federal judges are white. Among the states’ highest courts, 83% of justices are white and 62% are men.

There are many reasons for this. It can be difficult for minority and underprivileged people to afford law school. Minority lawyers may also have trouble finding positions after graduation, sometimes because they lack the connections enjoyed by their peers, whose parents and grandparents may have professional ties to the legal system or judiciary. Those same implicit biases can make them seem less hireable, even when their credentials are strong.

When law firms focus on diversity, it means making changes in who they hire, and who they promote, in order to bring different perspectives into the top ranks of the firm. It can also involve adopting a more transparent hiring process, and specifically recruiting women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community for leadership positions. The “Mansfield Rule” adopted by the American Bar Association in 2017, "requires law firms to consider at least 30 percent women and minority lawyers for significant leadership roles, lateral openings, and equity partner promotions." The first 40 law firms that adopted the policy had already seen a 40% boost in diversity in just a few years.

Why Law Firm Diversity is Important to You

Diversity and inclusion may be important to the legal industry as a whole, but as a client, you may be wondering “what’s in it for you.” The truth is that law firm diversity is just as important for our clients as it is for our associates and partners.

By hiring a law firm staffed by people with diverse backgrounds and life experiences, you can ensure that the team better understands your circumstances. This is especially true if you are a racial or religious minority yourself, or identify as LGBTQ+. By working with someone who shares your minority identity, you can avoid having to explain cultural differences. Your attorney can do the work of educating decision makers about your cultural practices, making sure they are honored. For example, if your attorney understands your cultural holidays, you are more likely to receive a parenting time plan that makes sure the children can celebrate those holidays with both parents.

A diversified legal team can also bring broader creativity to resolving your family law problems. When a legal staff lacks diversity it can be easy for them to treat one case much like the next. However, an inclusive working environment encourages divergent thinking and creative problem solving. This can help you find solutions to sticky legal disputes and avoid the need for trial.

At Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach, Buiteweg & Solomon, P.C., we have taken care to build a team that honors the diversity of our clients. The women on our team of family law attorneys all bring different perspectives to the table. We are honored to have the privilege to represent clients from diverse backgrounds. We take the time to customize our approach to your unique needs and goals, so that we can help you achieve a favorable outcome. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.