ALFDP Supports Law Firm Diversity Professionals to Improve Access, Opportunities in Law

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Despite some small gains made by women and minorities in the legal profession in recent years, the industry remains one of the least diverse of all white-collar professions in America, with a workforce that is 81 percent white and 64 percent male, according to the National Law Review. Similarly, a 2016 report by the National Association for Law Placement found that just 2.5 percent of American lawyers identify as LGBTQ, and 0.4 percent identify as having a disability.

Carlos Dávila-Caballero
Carlos Dávila-Caballero

Carlos Dávila-Caballero, JD, is extremely familiar with these disparities. As chief diversity officer for the international firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and president of the nonprofit Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals (ALFDP), he has seen the legal industry become increasingly aware of its problem in this area and of the need to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce. In fact, since ALFDP was founded in 2006, the organization’s membership, which consists of law firm diversity professionals, has grown from just 30 members to approximately 150 — which Dávila-Caballero believes indicates the growing number of firms that recognize the benefits of having a diverse workforce.

“Everyone in the legal industry knows we’re still one of the least diverse professions,” he says. “But the increase in ALFDP membership equates to a higher level of sophistication when it comes to the discussion of how we recruit, retain, and ultimately promote diverse individuals within firms.”

ALFDP has helped facilitate these conversations in the legal community and connects its members to colleagues and experts across the country who are all working toward the same goal — to increase opportunities for underrepresented individuals to enter into and succeed in the legal profession. Together, ALFDP members compose a network that spans 30 cities in 22 states.

Members gather annually for the ALFDP conference, which provides them an opportunity to learn best practices, participate in workshops, and hear from fellow members and outside experts about the challenges they face as diversity professionals in the legal industry and solutions they’ve devised. According to Dávila-Caballero, topics often discussed at these events include how to create and use resources such as diversity dashboards and methods for communicating with individuals at all levels — including executive leadership, junior employees, and even clients — about the importance of diversity and inclusion efforts.

In addition to the conference, ALFDP enables members to continuously share information, resources, and ideas via the association’s web portal and daily listserv. These online tools allow members to pose questions and exchange advice on topics that range from hiring an outside diversity consultant to celebrating ethnic heritage in the workplace, Dávila-Caballero says.

He believes that frequent contact with others who are also working as law firm diversity professionals is essential for individual member success as well as for the development of the profession as a whole — especially considering that the position itself is fairly new. “When you look at the corporate structure of law firms, diversity departments or professionals are, for the most part, the most recent addition to the operations of any given organization,” explains Dávila-Caballero. “People are always asking what it means to be a diversity professional [in a law firm], and we’ve had to work to answer that question as [the role] has continued to evolve.”

ALFDP recently asked its membership to complete engagement surveys designed to track the size, budget, and responsibilities of their firms’ diversity departments. The organization used this information to create its first executive report on the state of the profession. Dávila-Caballero believes that this move has helped increase “the visibility and transparency” of law firm diversity professionals’ roles at a time when firms are increasingly recognizing the benefits of having diverse legal teams.

“There is a strong consensus in our industry,” he says, “that you can only provide the best legal representation if you have a diverse composition of individuals with a broad range of experiences.”●

Mariah Bohanon is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. For more information, visit alfdp.com