Solving for Law Firm Inclusion: The Necessity of Lawyer Well-Being
Chances are, in a room of one hundred law firm partners in the United States, at most, one Black woman would be present. Statistically, if there were a Black, Latinx, or Asian woman in that room, she would be the only one. Women of color make up only 3.79 percent of all partners, counting equity and nonequity partners. The percentage of Black women among all partners has remained solidly under one percent—0.57 percent in 2009 and 0.80 percent in 2020. And so, women of color lawyers starting at law firms inevitably enter spaces that are overwhelmingly white and male—spaces where their well-being is not understood, much less prioritized. These same spaces are also home to a significant level of stress, substance abuse, and depression, rendering the law firm business ill-equipped to be welcoming and supportive. Attrition ensues and underrepresentation continues.
To evolve into truly inclusive workplaces, law firms must act to embed lawyer well-being as an institutional piece of their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. For law firms, the “racial reckoning” and the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–2021, with negative impacts falling disproportionately on women of color lawyers, have only complicated diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and well-being challenges. This Article proposes that law firms take concrete steps to solidify a holistic, interconnected approach to well-being and inclusion. Part II will provide an overview of the state of lawyer well-being and the representation of women of color lawyers at law firms. Part III will explore the impact of the events of 2020–21 on women of color lawyers. Part IV will highlight and critique recent law firm efforts on well-being and DEI. Part V will chart a path forward for law firms that treats well-being as inextricable from inclusion.