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Andrew Ricci

July 12, 2017

Mansfield Rule: Step Forward for Law Firm Diversity

The Mansfield Rule is a step closer to diversity and a potential driver of long-term competitiveness. 

The legal profession is one of the oldest occupations in human history. Since the times when humans first started to band together in societies governed by laws, there has been a need for professionals who study, develop, interpret, and apply the legal code. Throughout humanity’s long history in this discipline, it has suffered from a lack of gender and racial diversity. Today, millennia after the industry’s origins, we’ve made some progress but gender inequality in pay and power is still a common issue in law firms.

According to National Association for Law Placement, only 18.1% of partners in multi-tier law firms in 2016 were women and only 5.8% were racial/ethnic minorities. BigLaw practice groups say women in the top 200 law firms aren’t getting the most out of their paychecks. Further complicating the issue, women representation is very low in practice groups that pay the most.

To address these nagging inequalities, Diversity Lab has proposed a new policy, called the Mansfield Rule, which is poised to be the next generation breakthrough in law firm diversity. Named after Arabella Mansfield, the first woman admitted to practice law in the U.S., The Mansfield Rule stipulates that law firms must consider 30 percent female and minority candidates for leadership positions when a vacancy arises. This rule was inspired by the NFL’s Rooney Rule, named after the late Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, who successfully implemented a policy in 2003 mandating that every NFL team must interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching jobs. As of 2009, the Rooney Rule now applies to all senior football operations positions within the NFL. This has been a great driver of increased diversity with high-level roles within the league.

There has been considerable speculation surrounding the Mansfield Rule. It was first brought up at the 2016 “Women in Law Hackathon” hosted by Diversity Lab. 30 of the country’s leading law firms are piloting the Mansfield Law, including Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, Morgan Lewis, Morrison & Foerster, and Cooley. In other words, big names are behind it, which bodes well for long-term adoption.

“We believe that diversity delivers better results,” said Julie Gruber, Executive Vice President and Global General Counsel of Gap Inc. “We’ve worked for years to help drive meaningful diversity at our preferred law firm providers, and supporting the Mansfield Rule Client Forum is an important next step in this work.”

However, getting all law firms “Mansfield Certified” could be a challenge. Getting every law firm on the same page can be tricky with everyone having their own opinion, and law firms will want to see the benefit of being “Mansfield Certified” in the workforce and see how it is affecting employees.

Despite these challenges, individual law firms have a real opportunity here. If a law firm becomes “Mansfield Certified,” it can help recruitment of top talent as it can be a factor that many people look for when searching for a job. Those that are early adopters can be seen as leaders in the industry, demonstrating more transparency especially when people coming out of law school are from many different places and ethnic backgrounds. In short, firms that abide by the rule will enjoy a positive reflection.

Law firms today face many challenges and want to be able to stay competitive. Starting a communications campaign throughout the law firm community could bring firms together and will allow for relationships to build and grow, and in so doing, law firms will prosper as the way they are viewed by the public changes.

For recruitment, the Mansfield Rule is a step in the right direction for prospective colleagues coming out of law school, as this more socially-conscious cohort wants to see that firms respect gender diversity and equal pay opportunities in all positions. This can be the breakthrough firms need to stay competitive and cutting edge in a world where there are more options than ever.

We won’t know the full impact of the rule until it is adopted far and wide, beyond the initial pilot group. For now, though, it looks like we are making progress.

LEVICK Intern Emily Bondi contributed to this post.

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Posted by: Andrew Ricci

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