Mansfield Rule for Law Firms Builds on the Rooney Rule

In 2002, a study regarding underrepresented NFL coaches found that Black head coaches outperformed their White peers by almost every measure. Yet only two of the 21 coaches hired in the previous two years were African American. This revelation about the league’s lack of diversity led to the NFL’s adopting the now-famous Rooney Rule, which requires that at least one diverse candidate from outside an organization be interviewed for every open leadership position. Enforcement of the rule includes fines and other punishments. 

In recent years, the legal profession has established its own version of this policy. Diversity Lab, a self-described incubator for innovative ideas and solutions that increase diversity in the legal profession, created the Mansfield Rule in 2017 to address the field’s lack of diverse leadership. Named for Arabella Mansfield, the first woman to practice law in the U.S., the rule requires that firms commit to “considering at least 30% historically underrepresented lawyers — women, lawyers of color, LGBTQ+ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities — for a variety of roles, including equity partner promotions, senior lateral hires, client pitches, and leadership positions,” according to Diversity Lab. 

Unlike the Rooney Rule, using the Mansfield Rule is voluntary and includes incentives for compliance. Twice each year, Diversity Lab audits firms that agree to comply with the policy; those that follow it and achieve its requirements receive Mansfield Certification.  

In its first iteration in 2017, 65 law firms implemented the Mansfield Rule. In September 2019, Diversity Lab announced that 102 law firms had signed on to pilot the Mansfield Rule 3.0.  

Results from implementing the policy are impressive. According to the company, outcomes for firms who have used the Mansfield Rule to broaden their pool of diverse candidates include the following:

● 65% promoted a higher percentage of diverse lawyers into the equity partnership.

● 53% reported a higher percentage of lawyers elected or appointed to management or executive committees.

● 57% reported a higher percentage of lawyers elected or appointed to managing partner roles.

● 92% reported a higher percentage of diverse lawyers participating in formal client pitches.