This project seeks to generate knowledge about how to advance systemic equality in law firms while at the same time strengthening firms’ overall competitiveness.
The research will investigate how law firm cultures inadvertently reproduce gender, race, and other forms of inequality among lawyers within firms and test interventions aimed at reducing such inequality. We will focus our investigation on how firms currently define, measure, and foster “success” and our interventions on alternative approaches designed to produce more equitable and sustainable outcomes. Ideally, we will address a common set of research questions and test a common set of interventions across all participating firms (to be determined in collaboration with firms); firm-specific questions and interventions are also possible.
Assessment. Our research begins with an assessment of participating firms’ culture. An organization’s culture is, simply put, “the way we do things around here.” We define culture broadly as the values, expectations, beliefs, and assumptions, as well as practices, policies, and structures, that guide people’s actions and shape their experiences at work.
For the purposes of this project, a culture assessment entails systematic examination of the following: 1) how talent is assessed at critical junctures of an attorney’s career, such as hiring and promotion, and in ongoing formal and informal performance evaluation, 2) how talent is developed and deployed, and how developmental, work and leadership opportunities are distributed, 3) what individual qualities and experiences currently predict attorney success and thriving, and 4) what DEI initiatives are currently underway and with what impact. Across each of these areas, we will identify any patterns related to attorneys’ identities, such as their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and social class.
Intervention. The culture assessment helps inform where and how to undertake change aimed at advancing structural equality. In our approach, change is a continuous process of experimentation and learning. We call this portion of the project “action research” because it is essentially a process of learning by doing.
Specifically, we will partner with participating firms to design and test a series of evidence-based interventions. This effort entails the following: 1) building internally the individual and collective capacities necessary to undertake change, 2) designing and implementing interventions, some shared across firms and, potentially, some firm-specific, 3) constructing metrics for assessing impact on desired outcomes, 4) collecting and analyzing data to monitor impact, and adjusting accordingly, and 5) developing internal structures to support systematic and ongoing learning from change.
This project is a collaboration with HBS’ Institute for Race, Gender & Equity.