Visit the website of any mid- to large-sized New Jersey law firm these days, and there is a good chance that you’ll find a page on diversity. Clearly, law firms understand that a visible commitment to diversity and inclusion looks good.
However, diversity and inclusion are not just about appearances. As New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) President John E. Keefe Jr. put it at his swearing-in earlier this year, diversity means “truly listening to one another, and saying what we mean and meaning what we say.” Recruiting and retaining attorneys of varied backgrounds is a laudable goal, but diversity and inclusion is also about helping all attorneys understand how this goal leads to successful firms that bring clients better results.
As the leading professional organization for New Jersey lawyers, the NJSBA is dedicated to promoting and fostering a diverse and inclusive bar association. We define diversity as a broad concept that includes race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, age and disability. We believe ensuring equal access to opportunity is a moral imperative, but above all, we know our commitment to diversity and inclusion will make us a stronger, more relevant organization. Through its diversity committee, the NJSBA is working on increasing the diversity of the profession both internally and externally.
Consider this: a growing body of research shows that diversity leads to better, smarter, more profitable teams.
A 2015 study by the international consulting firm McKinsey found that companies in the top quarter for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above the industry average. As a November 2016 Harvard Business Review article put it, “Working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance.”
For trial attorneys who present before juries that look like the community at large, diversity is an asset in understanding the life experiences of the people who will be deciding your case. For all attorneys, the more perspectives you can bring into a firm, the more insight you will have into communities that need your help. That’s a wealth of potential clients that you may currently be overlooking.
Here are a few steps law firms committed to diversity and inclusion can take immediately.
Recruitment. Expand your horizons. Hiring managers should be thinking outside the box for all candidates, but certainly for diverse candidates. If you’re only willing to look at select schools, you are missing out on a wealth of talent and the opportunity.
Care about professional development. Retention is retention. No matter where new associates might be from, they want to stay in a place that will help them learn and grow. Give them opportunities to speak publicly, to present cases and to join industry-related organizations. Encourage attorneys to attend all types of continuing legal education (CLE) programing that will enrich their careers.
On that note, remember – diversity means everyone. If you see a program taking place with diversity in the title, at the NJSBA or elsewhere, assume that everyone is invited. Diversity is about learning from all perspectives. Breaking out of your regular social patterns might lead to a game-changer.
About the Authors: Norberto A. Garcia, a partner at Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins, P.C., is vice president of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and co-chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Diversity Committee. Kenneth E. Sharperson, an associate at Weber Gallagher, is co-chair of his firm’s Diversity Committee and a member of the NJSBA Diversity Committee.