November 11, 2009
New Survey Provides In-Depth Look at the Role of Diversity Professionals at Nation’s Law Firms
More full-time diversity professionals and relatively steady budget allocation show law firms remain committed to diversity goals
WASHINGTON – Results of a recent survey on law firm diversity professionals provides an interesting snapshot of the current role of this position and the resources law firms are dedicating to diversity. The “2009 Law Firm Diversity Professional Survey” was conducted jointly by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) and the Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals (ALFDP). This is the second year for the in-depth study, which surveyed the nation’s leading law firms to explore in detail the role of diversity professionals, still a relatively new position, and to quantify the resources firms are dedicating to diversity performance. See the complete report here.
“Our goal in sponsoring this survey was to learn more about the developing role of the diversity professional at law firms in order to provide a set of recommended practices for the position to share with the industry,” said Veta T. Richardson, MCCA Executive Director. “The first year, the survey focused on how the economy impacted law firm diversity budgets. This second survey delves more deeply into the profile of today’s diversity professionals, their role at their firms, budgets and resources dedicated to diversity and how the role is evolving.”
Of the 94 firms (ALFDP members and AmLaw 200 firms) that participated in the survey, 80% said they currently have a dedicated diversity professional at the firm. While some have had the position in place for awhile, most firms (67%) have created it in the last three years. Almost half (44%) said their diversity professional is dedicated full time to diversity initiatives.
Profile and Role of Today’s Diversity Professional
While responses varied somewhat on the background and responsibilities of the professionals in this developing position, the survey did reveal an interesting profile of today’s law firm diversity professional:
- The majority (77%) are women.
- 75% of law firm diversity professionals hold a J.D. degree.
- 55% were hired from within their firms and 44% were hired from outside the firm.
- Most are relatively new to the position: 78% have held the position for three years or less; 19% have held it less than one year.
- Diversity Director is the most common job title (50% of responses), followed by Diversity Partner (25%).
- Half of respondents noted that their diversity professional is Black/African American, 31% said they are White/Caucasian.
- 8% said the professional in that role is lesbian or gay.
- Although the majority of diversity professionals (58%) had less than five years of compensated diversity experience, a significant number (34%) had more than 10 years non-compensated diversity experience, whether on law firm diversity committees or external boards/associations.
In terms of their expanding role at their firms, the survey showed that diversity professionals have multiple reporting relationships. More diversity professionals are reporting directly to the firm Chair or Managing Partner (58% vs. 50% in 2008) or the Executive/Management Committee (32% vs. 25% in 2008). Most (90%) are asked to present regular progress reports or metrics to the firm leadership.
In addition, diversity professionals have a stronger role in diversity committees at their firms. The survey found that 97% of diversity professionals are members and/or ex-officio members of the diversity committee. Of these, more than half serve as Chair of the Diversity Committee. In 2008, only 79% of diversity professionals served on their firm’s diversity committee, and of those only 24% served as diversity chair.
“The developing role of diversity professionals as true drivers of the diversity effort and diversity committee goals at their firms shows how this position is changing,” said Michelle P. Wimes, Director of Strategic Diversity Initiatives at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, L.L.P. “The survey showed that within one year, the responsibilities of these professionals have grown and are becoming integral to the recruitment, retention and promotion of diverse lawyers.”
Salaries, Diversity Budgets and Resources
While a wide salary range exists for the position, 25% of respondents reported that the diversity professional at their firm has a base salary of more than $225,000. Almost 15% had a salary range of $175,000 to $225,000, and 30% were in the $125,000 to $175,000 range. When it comes to the opportunity to earn bonus compensation above base salary, 80% respondents said the position is bonus-eligible.
“In addition to the reporting role and increased leadership on diversity committees, the actual responsibilities of diversity professionals have expanded as well,” says AFLDP President Sylvia James, Diversity Counsel for Baker Botts, L.L.P. Most respondents (96%) said that the diversity professional is responsible for developing the diversity goals and strategies for the firm, as well as promoting awareness of the issues that impact diversity in firm management and governance. And 92% said diversity professionals are charged with developing programs to create an environment that supports inclusion and retention of lawyers.
Regarding the resources firms are dedicating to diversity in the current economy, the survey revealed that the majority (54%) of firms expect their 2009 internal diversity budgets to remain the same as in 2008. Surprisingly, while 28% said they did expect their budget to be lower in 2009, 19% of respondents expect their 2009 internal diversity budgets to be higher. (While 60% reported a current internal diversity budget of $150,000 or less, 11% reported budgets greater than $400,000.)
Across the board, external diversity budgets are down at law firms. This year, only 8% reported that their external budget was greater than $400,000 versus 30% in 2008. By contrast, 68% reported that their external diversity budget was $150,000 or less versus 47% in 2008.
In terms of support resources, most diversity professionals (80%) have support staff, with 46% having at least two or more individuals reporting to them. When asked about the total budget for salary, bonus and benefits for staff positions reporting to the diversity professional, figures were the same or close to those reported in 2008. As far as resources for retreats in today’s economy, one third (34%) reported no change in their retreat plans, however, 28% plan to postpone retreats and 19% have cancelled them altogether.
Challenges, Future Direction
While much of the data showed stability and even growth in several areas related to the role of diversity professionals at law firms, respondents noted there remain challenges. Some of the biggest challenges cited were trying to maintain diversity momentum, continued recruitment and retention efforts and managing the budget. Of course, the impact of the economy was also named as a significant challenge.
“The results of this survey give us interesting data against which law firms can benchmark the role, responsibilities and resources of the law firm diversity professional within our industry, says C. Elaine Arabatzis, Diversity/Pro Bono Counsel at Dickstein Shapiro, L.L.P. ”This is a relatively new position with huge potential impact on law firms, so having this information to share gives us all better insight into current best practices and ideas for the future direction of this role.”
In addition, Richardson of MCCA noted, “This data will help form the basis of future qualitative analysis for the profession and, ultimately, will empower diversity professionals to remain change-agents and leaders within their firms.”
The Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals acts as a catalyst for the advancement of diversity in the legal professional through collective knowledge, vision, expertise and advocacy in the area of firm diversity. Founded in 2006, ALFDP’s membership includes many AmLaw 100 firms, the nation’s hundred largest law firms ranked by revenue.
The Minority Corporate Counsel Association advocates for the expanded hiring, retention, and promotion of minority attorneys in corporate legal departments and the law firms that serve them. Since its founding in 1997, MCCA has emerged as the legal profession’s knowledge leader on diversity issues, and its expanded platform offers solutions to diversity management challenges involving women, physically challenged, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lawyers, in addition to attorneys of color (which remains its primary focus).
MCCA advances its mission by publishing innovative research, illuminating diversity best practices, honoring diversity leadership with its prestigious Employer of Choice and Thomas L. Sager awards, and assisting diverse law students through the Lloyd M. Johnson, Jr. Scholarship Program. MCCA’s award-winning programs and services have been cited by several leading organizations, including the National Minority Business Council, Inc., the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Association of Corporate Counsel.
MCCA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and also has a southeast regional office in Atlanta, Ga. Visit www.mcca.com.