10 Hidden Barriers Experienced by Diverse Attorneys

Are diverse attorneys truly discriminated against in the legal profession? Have you ever witnessed an act of discrimination? Perhaps it’s an excuse.

Perhaps it isn’t.

Several organizations have performed studies on diverse attorneys in the legal profession. They all found evidence of “hidden barriers” diverse attorneys are encountering that are limiting their career paths.

The ten hidden barriers most commonly encountered by diverse attorneys include*:

Networking Opportunities

Diverse attorneys have fewer opportunities to attend lunches, meetings, pitches, and social events. These occasions are necessary for forming connections with people who can help them with their careers.  Attending fewer networking events prevent diverse attorneys from engaging in business development.

Internal Networks

How often have you been aware of a position opening before it was officially announced? For many diverse attorneys, they never truly become a part of the internal network and do not get this type of office intelligence.

Lack of Skill-Building Assignments

There is an age-old employment conundrum: most positions require experience, but often applicants do not have the required experience. The qualifications needed for advancement come through work assignments, but diverse attorneys often find themselves working on routine tasks that do not increase skill level.

Mentors and Sponsors

Mentors may be easy to connect with, but sponsors are more difficult. A mentor helps educate and support an employee, but a sponsor helps to advance an employee’s career by using their own influence. They become invested in the employee.

Training and Development

Just as diverse attorneys are missing out on skill-building assignments and networking events, they are also not receiving as much training and development as non-diverse attorneys.

Contact with Clients

Have you ever had a client specifically request you for their team? By limiting a diverse attorney’s contact with clients, a firm is preventing the attorney from developing the relationship that benefits both the client and the attorney.

Discomfort from Other Employees

In the studies mentioned above, diverse attorneys reported they noticed other employees were uncomfortable around them in the workplace. This perceived discomfort makes the diverse attorney feel uncomfortable in turn, and does not help him or her feel welcome among coworkers.

Fewer Billable Hours & Lower-Profile Work

If you believe diverse attorneys do not advance because they lack drive or skill, consider that they may not have been able to demonstrate these and other traits because they have been assigned less and/or lower-profile work.

Inadequate Feedback

Many of us feel as though we would prefer to spend less time getting criticism during evaluations, but the reality is this is how we learn and grow as employees. Diverse attorneys often receive “soft evaluations” where they are not given candid feedback on their performance, which also means they don’t know how they need to improve.

Denied Promotions

The studies also discovered diverse attorneys are being denied promotions more often than non-diverse attorneys. This may be due to bias, or a result of the barriers mentioned above.

Take Down the Barriers

Until diverse attorneys do not experience these barriers, or experience them at the same rate as non-diverse attorneys, the legal profession is not truly diverse. We will also continue to see the high attrition rates that cause law firms to lose valuable talent and resources every year.

By incorporating an inclusiveness initiative into your organization, you can help these barriers disappear.

*Sources: Minority Corporate Counsel Association – Pathways Study – Red Book – 2009; American Bar Association – Visible Invisibility Study – 2006; American Bar Association – Visibly Successful Study – 2009; Catalyst – Women of Color in U.S. Law Firms – 2009; Hispanic National Bar Association – Latina Lawyers – 2009, 2010; Corporate Counsel Women of Color - 2011