Best Practices for Recruiting African American Attorneys

recruiting african american attorneys

Diversity in the legal profession often proceeds in a “one step forward, two steps back” fashion.  Over the past few decades, the number of students of color in American law schools has steadily increased.  Though one would expect that a more diverse applicant pool would translate into a more diverse legal workforce, legal employers – particularly law firms – continue to struggle with diversity.  But as more law firms recognize the benefits of diversity, they are looking for creative ways to recruit diverse attorneys.  Here are four tips for recruiting African American attorneys.

Make Diversity a Priority at All Levels

One of the best ways to recruit African American attorneys is make diversity a priority in your firm.  Most applicants evaluate a firm based on what it is already doing to achieve diversity.  So, the best way to recruit new diverse attorneys is to use the diverse attorneys you already have.  These attorneys are the best evidence that your firm’s commitment to diversity is more than a slogan.

Like all other employees, African American attorneys want to know that they will be given important work, raises, and promotions.  The best way to prove that your firm is a place where African American can excel is to give the African Americans in your firm key accounts, raises, and promotions.  They should also be given prominent leadership roles in your firm.  A dedicated core of African American employees will also be an asset in other steps of the recruiting process.

Make Diversity a Recruiting Goal

Each year, law firms set goals for revenue, billable hours, new business, and other areas.  When law firms set their hiring goals for the year, they should develop a plan for diversity within that goal.

If a firm wanted to increase its revenue, no one would advise management to leave things vague and hope for the best.  Rather, they would expect the leaders to set a goal, set a date for achieving that goal, and outline a plan for achieving that goal.  Diversity hiring should be treated no differently.  A firm that is truly committed to diversity will set goals, set dates, and create a concrete plan.  Claiming to want diversity without work is the same as setting vague revenue goals and hoping for the best: both will lead to failure.

Use a Diverse Hiring Committee

No matter what our conscious minds think, all humans possess implicit biases.  In other words, even when we aren’t actively thinking racist thoughts, we must be aware that we have been raised in a society that has taught us to view certain people in certain ways.   While we can’t control our unconscious biases, we can take steps to make sure they don’t control our decisions.

The hiring process provides a perfect place for implicit biases tend to grow.  Interviews ask reviewers to evaluate people they don’t know well using highly subjective criteria – and they must do so in a very limited amount of time.  So, there are multiple way for bias to enter the process.  One of the best ways to disrupt any biases is to put different groups of people in the room.  Similar people are likely to have the same implicit biases.  However, people with different life experiences will have different points of view.  Multiple studies have shown that putting a woman or person of color in a room where decisions are made changes the tone of the conversation.  So, a diverse hiring committee is your firm’s best defense against bias.

Consider Where You Recruit

Lawyers and law firms tend to be creatures of habit.  Firms recruit the same way, in the same places, year after year.  Though the refusal to reinvent the wheel may save time, doing the same thing the same way means that firms will achieve the same result.  To achieve diversity, firms must recruit in places they may not have considered in the past.

Firms can take several simple steps while recruiting African American attorneys.  Firms should resist the temptation to limit their searches to only “elite” law schools.  These law schools tend to be less diverse, so they are not the best places for recruiting African American attorneys.  Recruiting at law schools with high African American enrollments – including the six HBCU law schools – will help any firm diversify its staff.

Firms should also consider where they recruit.  BLSA – the Black Law Students Association – holds job fairs in each of its regions each year.  The job fair allows firms to meet with many African American law students at one event.  Firms can also partner with local Black bar associations.  These groups often host job fairs or post job openings for their members.

Firms should also consider where they advertise.  While African American attorneys have access to the same websites that other attorneys do, taking the extra time to target websites and resources frequented by African American attorneys will increase your firm’s ability to recruit diverse attorneys.   The African American Attorney Network connects Black attorneys and other attorneys of color with clients and employers.  When your firm is recruiting African American attorneys, consider advertising your position on this website.