Jeroen Plink, CEO at Clifford Chance Applied Solutions, recently spoke on an ILTA 30 Minute Roundtable entitled "How to Build Diversity into your Firm’s Workflow Processes". He was joined by Caroline Sweeney, Director of Knowledge Management & Innovation at Dorsey & Whitney and Jason Ku, CEO at Pirical. The panel was moderated by Nikki Shaver, Managing Director of Innovation and Knowledge at Paul Hastings.

The panel all have experience with how technology, processes and data might improve how law firms allocate work and develop of skills in a way that embraces diversity and inclusion. 

They discussed diversity both in respect of recruitment but also attrition. My key takeaways:

On how Covid is impacting this topic....

It wasn't easy to begin with! Even without remote working just some of the considerations law firms need to make include; do lawyers know the client already or has client requested particular lawyer? does the lawyer profile fit the diversity lens of the client? is there a language requirement or visa / passport requirement? does the lawyer's billing rate meet the matter profitability needs? does the lawyer have any upcoming personal commitments such as a wedding? Global Covid restraints to working life add even more considerations such as whether the lawyer has a private place to work or works in a shared space. This may rule out certain confidential matters. There are also increasing pressures on resource managers to help manage these considerations and allocate work.

But it's not all bad. Covid means that a lot of us are working remotely which means there are more opportunities to work across offices and flexibility. Where in the past, a partner may have assumed a preference to work with an associate within their own office, remote working has provided that an associate with the same skills in another office deliver the same results. 

On how data and technology can help....

Increasingly law firms can measure and analyse their data to improve processes for the benefit of a diverse workforce.  With data you can prove or disprove biases. The best way to do this is by creating a hypothesis, AB testing it and then tweaking or creating new processes accordingly.

Technology and data also enable more unbiased recruitment and work allocation. One way to do this is to allocate work using algorithms which has proven to be fairer than 'human' allocation. A word of warning here, if using AI to do this then AI will need to be trained in an unbiased way. Even taking away AI, firms should monitor allocation and check that any algorithms are working in the right way. 

Another idea provided was to create an online jobs board where partners and associates can post jobs. Associates can then apply for projects that interest them and provide a development opportunity. If you make the job posters and applicants anonymous this enables blind work allocation.

On how clients are driving change....

Clients are increasingly asking for better levels of diversity on their matters. This comes through in most RFPs, procurement guidelines and annual audits. This is a big positive factor in driving diversity. 

However, sometimes there is a perceived disconnect between what clients expect from a procurement perspective vs what they do in practice. For example, there is data to suggest some GCs disproportionately select male partners for advice which can contradict their company's own procurement guidelines.

Law firms can help counter this by trying to steer clients when they request a specific lawyer and another, equally skilled, lawyer is available. They can also monitor who gets assigns work though data analysis.