New Survey Provides In-Depth Look At The Role Of Diversity Professionals At Nation's Law Firms

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 - 00:00

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 at /diversitysurvey.

Of the 94 firms (ALFDP members and AmLaw 200 firms) that participated in the survey, 80 percent said they currently have a dedicated diversity professional at the firm. While some have had the position in place for awhile, most firms (67 percent) have created it in the last three years. Almost half (44 percent) 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 percent) are women.

• 75 percent of law firm diversity professionals hold a J.D. degree.

• 55 percent were hired from within their firms and 44 percent were hired from outside the firm.

• Most are relatively new to the position: 78 percent have held the position for three years or less; 19 percent have held it less than one year.

• Diversity Director is the most common job title (50 percent of responses), followed by Diversity Partner (25 percent).

• Half of respondents noted that their diversity professional is Black/African American, 31 percent said they are White/Caucasian.

• Eight percent said the professional in that role is lesbian or gay.

• Although the majority of diversity professionals (58 percent) had less than five years of compensated diversity experience, a significant number (34 percent) 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 percent vs. 50 percent in 2008) or the Executive/Management Committee (32 percent vs. 25 percent in 2008). Most (90 percent) 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 percent 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 percent of diversity professionals served on their firm's diversity committee, and of those only 24 percent served as diversity chair.

Salaries, Diversity Budgets and Resources

While a wide salary range exists for the position, 25 percent of respondents reported that the diversity professional at their firm has a base salary of more than $225,000. Almost 15 percent had a salary range of $175,000 to $225,000, and 30 percent were in the $125,000 to $175,000 range. When it comes to the opportunity to earn bonus compensation above base salary, 80 percent of respondents said the position is bonus-eligible.

Most respondents (96 percent) 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 percent 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 percent) of firms expect their 2009 internal diversity budgets to remain the same as in 2008. Surprisingly, while 28 percent said they did expect their budget to be lower in 2009, 19 percent of respondents expect their 2009 internal diversity budgets to be higher. (While 60 percent reported a current internal diversity budget of $150,000 or less, 11 percent reported budgets greater than $400,000.)