“Stretching the Norms”: Diversity as a Recruiting Strategy for Exceptional Legal Talent

Women made up 35.7 percent of the legal profession in 2016, and minorities 14.7 percent, both generally upward trends since 2003, with some year-to-year fluctuations. 
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017


Diversity in the legal profession is a challenge.

Do you dare stretch beyond your comfort zone? If you are recruiting the same way, employing old pathways, you will find more of what you currently may have on your team. But what if you dared to execute new recruiting strategies with possibly new sources or resources? We’d say bravo. You would have a greater chance of success in achieving not just business diversity, but diversity of thought and resources.

Savvy and successful General Counsels realize the value, on many levels, of a diverse team.

They know that if their organization is competing in a global market, they need to reflect the composition of their market, customers and consumers as a sound business practice. They also know that a diverse team leads to a richer and deeper level of sophistication in making decisions and reaching solutions. They can easily see that a diverse team gives them more capability and credibility in the legal and business communities. And they are aware that diversity among their team members will set a positive example not only to diversity candidates but also to the broader company, and that most likely will create a diversity pipeline. (See article, “Can Your Network Be A Recruiting Strategy?“)

But how do you initiate the process of creating a diverse legal team?

Let’s start with what diversity covers. One of the best definitions we have come across was voiced recently by the general counsel of a publicly traded Fortune 100 pharmaceutical-services company: “The definition of diversity includes the fundamental notion of acceptance, respect and appreciation for differences, valuing those differences that are brought to the workplace and, in valuing those differences, multiple perspectives in decision-making for the company can exist.”

What’s important about this definition is the nuance of “multiple perspectives in decision-making.”That includes diversity of thought, socio-economic standing and other examples, including gender, background or cultural diversity. It’s important to open up the diversity lens and ask yourself, “How diverse is my team? Is it inclusive?”

For GCs looking to recruit exceptional lawyers, use of a diverse and inclusive approach will result in a wider and stronger pool of applicants.

So what are examples of diversity recruiting strategies?

Example No. 1: Broaden the pool. When reaching out to a search firm, the general counsel quoted above chose a firm he had worked with previously, though the company had not. And he asked for diversity candidates to be included in every hiring slate to create a wider pool of potential hires. Two things happened: diversity candidates were in the mix, and the search firm had access to talent and diversity resources that had not been tapped. The result was not the same candidate pool the company typically relied on. Moreover, the company’s legal team went on to receive a department award, and the GC was recognized as General Counsel of the Year. These internal and external recognitions make a statement about the role of diversity in hiring and managing a top-notch legal team, and raising the legal team’s profile, which is an asset when building your legal department.

Example No. 2: Look for companies that have internal or external mentoring programs to identify and target diverse legal talent. Learn from established programs, network with peers to explore what they may be utilizing and create your own. You may find diversity professionals from many professions stepping up to assist with the objective. Allies are always helpful resources in any organization.

Example No. 3: Look for candidates with potential. We have recruited attorneys for in-house opportunities for almost 20 years, and on very few occasions has a candidate checked all the boxes. Why not take an expansive view of the talents offered, now that you are looking at a broader pool? When in-house legal departments have gone this route, the result has been a high-caliber team.

Example No. 4: Look outside conventional pathways. A pharmaceutical-services company has turned to Hire America, a military recruiting program, as a source for reaching out to professionals. Military presence within the ranks of a company helps in two ways: those ex-military professionals who are transitioning to the business world have mentors available to them, and they see the proof that others have been successful in the transition.

Lesson learned: You need diversity of thought and resources when embarking on sourcing a diverse pool of legal talent. Broadening a team’s resources requires having multiple perspectives included in the decision-making process. If your network of candidates is diverse from the beginning of the process, you will have more diverse choices when selecting whom to hire.

As the Fortune 100 pharmaceutical-services company GC mentioned above explained, “When diversity is properly harnessed and nurtured and harmonized in the business, the synergy formed can bring a tremendous competitive advantage in the global marketplace. Recognizing individual differences to create an environment of acceptance and respect is not only an effective leadership strategy, but it motivates individuals in ways that nurture peak performance.”

Similarly, diversity and inclusion can also be viewed as a performance measure.

You can get the ball rolling by challenging your team to develop a diverse recruiting process and by asking your legal search partner to include diverse candidates in the pool of talent under consideration. (See article, “Master the Art of the Interview: Hire the Right Lawyer.”)

For many GCs, an emphasis on diversity and inclusion is based on their belief that individual differences and perspectives make the world go around a little better, faster and far more efficiently than repeating the same old process.

To sum up, here are the benefits of an emphasis on diversity of thought, culture and experience among candidates and the legal team to which they are applying:

  • ŸA deeper, richer decision-making process that yields more creative solutions and outcomes, which may be a competitive advantage.
  • ŸA quicker and more meaningful buy-in from the legal team and senior management on the new hires, if key team members were part of the diversity recruiting strategy. (http://blog.princetonlegal.com/key-stakeholder-buy-in-dont-hire-without-it)
  • ŸA more dynamic workplace, which may lead to higher employee retention rates.
  • ŸAn effective leadership strategy that also motivates the individual to perform at his or her peak.
  • ŸAn opportunity to build a broader, more diverse network for your own professional development.

Taking the first step outside your comfort zone will be the first of many as you broaden your perspective to include resources and ideas that may not have been considered or explored previously. It may feel uncomfortable for some period of time. Stick with the process; the results are both surprising and rewarding. If you need help initializing a slate of diverse candidates, we are available to enage as your trusted advisor and search partner.