by Audrey J. Lee, Perspectiva Consultant to the IILP
Effective communication skills are a lawyer’s stock in trade. They are essential, and should they break down, fail completely, or simply fall short of their goals, the consequences can be dire. For a profession so dependent upon its communication skills, it is surprising that there has not been more analysis examining how lawyers communicate with one another. One area ripe for further examination is the way in which lawyers communicate regarding diversity and inclusion issues. Specifically, how do lawyers discuss perceptions of bias and differential treatment, and what policies and practices do legal institutions have in place to manage these types of communications and potential misunderstandings within the profession?
The Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession (“IILP”) partnered with the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (“HNMCP”) to study how law firms communicate internally on sensitive topics such as perceptions of bias and discrimination and learn what effect, if any, such communications – in their content, their delivery style, or their speaker – might have upon the satisfaction and success of lawyers who are diverse within large law firms. IILP and HNMCP were interested in learning what law firms are doing and what could be improved regarding their internal infrastructure and communication policies, protocols, and systems to enhance the effectiveness of their ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts. Of special interest was the goal of learning how attorneys and law firms handle the resolution of a wide variety of diversity related disputes or conflicts ranging from informal differences of opinion, to issues with stated or actual policies, to more formal disputes.
Our background research, interview findings, and recommendations are structured according to three overarching principles:
We make specific recommendations for how to improve