Photo by Hannah Busing
More of BigLaw hopes to be Mansfield 4.0-certified this year, but that should only be one action of many on firms' diversity, equity and inclusion lists.
This year, more firm's than ever seem to be voicing support for antiracist action, often through Black Lives Matter solidarity statements, commitment to pro bono work, and pledged donations. However, clients, employees, recent law school grads, and even rising classes of law students are also taking a look at what legal employers are doing to hold themselves accountable for furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts within their own organizations. Many believe that Mansfield certification should be on firm’s DEI lists, even if only as a minimum measure of compliance. As the Mansfield Rule goes into its 4th iteration—now Mansfield 4.0—we see an increased number of firms seeking the certification. But what should come next?
Moving to Mansfield 4.0
The Mansfield Rule is based on the concept of the NFL’s Rooney Rule and named for Arabella Mansfield, the first woman licensed to practice law in the U.S. The Mansfield Rule now requires that at least 30 percent of those being considered for 70 percent or more of significant leadership roles within any given law firm are women, LBGTQ+, and minority lawyers. According to research cited by Diversity Lab, this percentage of candidates represents a “critical mass” needed to begin to really disrupt biases. The rule was created in an effort to increase the diversity of lawyers working in BigLaw firms, which despite small gains, remain considerably low. Over the course of the year, Diversity Lab will conduct a review of the participating firms and their progress, determining whether or not each firm has met these goals, qualifying them as “Mansfield-certified” or not.
Since it was first introduced to the legal community three years ago, the Mansfield Rule has undergone several changes. In its second version, the Diversity Lab expanded the Mansfield Rule to include LGBTQ+ lawyers and in its third, the Mansfield Rule grew to include differently-abled lawyers. When the project first launched, 42 firms participated. As of July 2020, 117 firms are now participating in Mansfield 4.0.
A closer look at impact.
Increased participation does give some encouragement that BigLaw feels at least a little pressure to move the needle. According to Diversity Lab, “94% of participating firms reported that their candidate pool for pitch teams was more diverse following the adoption of the Mansfield Rule [and] 92% of firms reported an increase in formal diversity discussions regarding succession planning for leadership and governance roles.” As conversations around systemic racism and injustice for minorities become more normalized within legal, more firms do seem to be interviewing and hiring lawyers from historically-underrepresented groups.
While it’s true that the more firms that receive their Mansfield certification, the better, there’s hope that firm cultures will also become more sustainably diverse, equitable and inclusive, especially for lawyers in groups that haven't seen as much progress. Currently, according to American Lawyer’s 2020 Diversity scorecard, some gains in diverse partnership counts have been made among Am Law 200 and National Law Journal 250 firms. However Black lawyers in particular have seen little gain, with numbers for Black lawyer partnership staying relatively stagnant as some other groups see incremental progress. Some worry about incremental progress backsliding in the wake of COVID-19 induced cutbacks, mirroring regressions in these efforts during economic downturn a decade ago. According to American Lawyer, the top five firms on their 2020 Diversity Scorecard still only have an average of 0.64% black partnership.
Coupling the Mansfield certification with other efforts will be essential to seeing real progress in BigLaw. Actions like investing in affinity groups, hiring specialized professionals dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, encouraging mentorships that can help lawyers feel more comfortable and confident, and continuing to normalize open conversations about the work that needs to be done with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion can all also go a long way toward making these gains.