Meet 7 diversity leaders who are fighting for equity and inclusion in Big Law and the advice they have for firms

Meet 7 diversity leaders who are fighting for equity and inclusion in Big Law and the advice they have for firms

Yusuf Zakir of Davis Wright Tremaine and Sylvia James of Winston & Strawn.
Davis Wright Tremaine, Winston & Strawn

The legal industry is slowly becoming more diverse, but at the partner and management levels, law firms are still overwhelmingly white and male.

During the past 15 years, law firms have invested in diversity and inclusion professionals who help diversify summer associate programs, increase the makeup of women and people of color at the partner ranks, manage affinity groups for minority attorneys, and more.

Insider talked to five of the top diversity executives in Big Law about the work they're doing and how they're making it a more equitable and welcoming place for minority lawyers.

Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

For women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community, the legal industry has historically been a tough place to succeed, with Big Law, the group of top law firms in the country, remaining a "boys' club" for mostly straight white men.The industry has improved in recent decades in regard to diversity and inclusion: In 2018, minority associate representation increased to 24.2% in law firms, up from 19.5% in 2010, and women have made up about half of law-firm associates for at least a decade, according to the National Association for Law Placement.But there is still a long way to go: While many law firms tout the racial and gender diversity of their summer associate class and early-career ranks, firm partnerships and leadership teams are still overwhelmingly white and male, and well-known LGBTQ attorneys remain few and far between.Law firms in the past few years have faced pressure to address these concerns, from clients who want their legal matters staffed with a diverse team to law-school groups demonstrating outside law offices to former attorneys alleging gender and racial discrimination in highly publicized lawsuits. They have also been called on to publicly address important social issues such as police brutality after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police last year.Read more: 2 key steps law firms must take to boost diversity - and how being inclusive can help land major clients like MicrosoftInternally, law firms are now turning to diversity experts as vital members of the management team who can shape firm policy, work with associates from marginalized groups, and ingrain diversity and inclusion into every level of their organizations. Mostly lawyers themselves, these executives are working to make the $795 billion global legal industry a more equitable place.To recognize the increased importance of these executives, Insider has selected seven of the most influential diversity and inclusion leaders at the country's top law firms. Each was chosen based on initiatives they've spearheaded, conversations with legal-industry experts, and how their current and former firms stack up on industry surveys such as Vault's Best Law Firms for Diversity.Six of the diversity professionals shared with Insider their unique strategies to diversity and inclusion at a Big Law firm and what they were focusing on in 2021.Read more: 10 diversity leaders who are fighting inequality in corporate America

Maja Hazell, White & Case's global head of diversity and inclusion, is working to move the conversation beyond just diversity and inclusion to equity and belonging.

Meet 7 diversity leaders who are fighting for equity and inclusion in Big Law and the advice they have for firms

Maja Hazell
White & Case
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