At its basic level, access is the ability or opportunity to enter a particular space or communicate with a particular person. In law firms, the concept of access comes down to three primary components:
Employee access to information and opportunities
It’s difficult for lawyers to grow their skills and showcase their abilities if they lack the opportunity to do so in the first place. Many law firms often deny Junior associates trying to grow their reputations the opportunity to either take on new cases or work alongside more experienced lawyers, which keeps them from learning opportunities and the ability to shape their image.
At other times, junior associates may have the opportunities but lack the information and resources needed to do their jobs. This lack of support hinders their efficiency and ability. Lack of access to opportunities or information is a problem that disproportionately affects women, people of color, and LBGT community members.
Employee Access To Superiors
The ability to maintain an open door allows provides many tremendous benefits to organizations. As an equity partner or a managing partner, here are some of the benefits that come with an open-door policy:
#: It allows associates to air their grievances
When people are allowed to air their grievances, they are generally happier with their working environments and are less likely to leave their jobs. A high attrition rate at a law firm can end up costing the firm a lot of money because of the cost of retaining new hires.
#: Allows associates to offer their ideas
Great ideas can come from anyone in the firm, which is why offering different people an opportunity to share their thoughts allows for the assimilation of different points of view based on different circumstances.
#: Eliminates the feeling of an authoritarian environment
People are generally happier when they feel they have a say in their work and the kinds of cases they can take. An authoritarian environment that issues dictates from the top, expecting associates to follow orders like automatons, creates a toxic environment over time.
#: Builds trust, transparency, and open lines of communication
Firms with well-established open-door policies that do not punish employees for airing their views have more openness and trust between superiors and juniors. This allows these types of firms to be more flexible and versatile. They can better cope with unexpected challenges while also shifting with new trends and preferences.
Ease of access to legal services provided by firms
Access isn’t just an issue within the firm; it also has much to do with access from outside the firm. There are many people out in the world facing injustices every day. The only way to remedy these injustices is with the help of professional legal minds.
Unfortunately, access to legal services has gradually become a preserve of the rich and privileged in the country. We can help solve this problem by creating easier access to legal firms for all people.
Here are a couple of ways that firms can boost greater access to different communities
#: Opening offices in areas where they are needed most
Having corporate offices in the upper east side of New York means a law firm will attract only one type of client because the location alone intimidates many people.
Opening offices in places where legal services are most in need, such as the Harlem and the West Bronx, is the best way to create easier access for people who genuinely need legal advice to resolve the injustices in their lives.
#: Reaching out to people who need legal services
Many people have lost faith in the criminal justice system, and their cynicism means they will not bother walking into the offices of law firms that they see as part of the problem.
Unfortunately, the people who have lost complete faith in the legal system are the ones who need legal advice the most. Taking legal services directly to these people is a way to help build up their faith in the legal process again.
#: Community outreach programs aimed at teaching people about their rights
A lot of abuse by people in positions of power, such as the police or bosses, is because people don’t know their legal rights. If they understood their legal rights, they would be less likely to be taken advantage of or abused. Lawyers should create programs that teach the most vulnerable people how to protect their rights.
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Joseline J. Hardrick is the Founder and President of Diversity Access Pipeline, Inc. She is also an author, professor, and lawyer and resides in Tampa Bay, Florida. Guest bloggers are students in the Journey to Esquire® Scholarship & Leadership Program.