Law Firm Affinity Groups: A Key Resource for Attorneys and Firms

 

Law Firm Affinity Groups: A Key Resource for Attorneys and Firms

As this blog has often stated, the legal profession lacks diversity. While the diversity problem affects all sectors of the profession, the situation is particularly bad in large law firms (a.k.a. “BigLaw”). According to all available data, African American attorneys are leaving BigLaw in droves. Law firms are using a new tool to counter this trend: affinity groups. Law firm affinity groups provide attorneys and firms with resources to recruit and retain diverse attorneys.

What are Affinity Groups?

Affinity groups (sometimes called Employee Resource Groups) are composed of employees who share certain characteristics. Major corporations began using affinity groups about thirty years ago. Law firms soon began using them as well.

Too often, law firms – especially those in BigLaw – are very white, very male, and very straight. Employees who don’t fit into the BigLaw mold often feel excluded. Law firm affinity groups give these employees a place to go for support and encouragement. Many law firms have affinity groups dedicated to women, people of color, LGBT persons, or other groups that are underrepresented in the legal profession.

Affinity groups often host social events or other activities to help members bound outside of work. They may also sponsor formal or informal mentoring programs. At some firms, they host speakers or organize cultural events.

How Law Firm Affinity Groups Help Black Attorneys

Because associates must meet their billables, young attorneys often skip social activities in favor of work.  Even though most attorneys know that social relationships will help them advance, they struggle to find time to develop them. New associates should give priority to any event hosted by an affinity group.

Law firm affinity groups help young attorneys in at least two ways. First, affinity groups prevent isolation. Law firms can be a lonely place for those who aren’t white, straight, or male. Getting all the attorneys of color (or female attorneys or LGBT attorneys) together in one room reminds new (and experienced) attorneys that they are not alone as they go about their work.

Second, affinity group members expand a new attorney’s network. Networks are key to law firm survival and advancement. Having a person who will mentor you, advocate for you, introduce you to key people, or give you advice can make all the difference in your career. Affinity groups are excellent places to find that support. Because Black attorneys face more struggles on the road to partner, this support is particularly critical.

How Affinity Groups Help Law Firms

Affinity groups don’t just help attorneys; they help law firms as well. Affinity groups can help firms in both obvious and surprising ways.

  • Affinity groups demonstrate the firm’s commitment to inclusion.   When done properly, law firm affinity groups acknowledge and celebrate their employees’ differences. When employees are accepted for they are, they feel more at ease. Creating an affinity group lets employees know that the firm respects their unique backgrounds.
  • Affinity groups increase retention. Workers at companies with affinity groups report higher levels of job satisfaction. Happy employees are less likely to leave. So, affinity groups save thousands of recruitment dollars.
  • Affinity groups improve recruitment efforts. Increasingly, candidates want to know where a company stands on issues like diversity and inclusion before accepting an offer. Workers – particularly younger ones – are more likely to accept offers from companies that value diversity. So, highlighting affinity groups is a good way to attract a diverse talent pool.
  • Affinity groups provide firms with helpful insights. More and more law firms are finding that diversity isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s good for the bottom line. Major corporate clients are demanding that the firms they hire employ attorneys from a variety of backgrounds. Affinity groups can provide firms with valuable insights as they seek new clients and markets.

Law firm affinity groups help attorneys feel supported. They also help firms recruit and retain diverse talent. If your firm or legal department would like assistance recruiting diverse talent, contact us today to discuss partnership opportunities.