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.
“In the Halls of Justice, the only justice is in the halls.”
In the past, various industries and fields have witnessed a major push for the concept of equality. As a concept, equality is quite different from the idea of equity.
Proponents of equality argued that there was a lot of workplace discrimination and demanded that every employee be given the same resources and opportunities.
However, over time, it became clear that equality wouldn’t be enough, which is when the concept of equity came into play. Equity advocates recognize and acknowledge that different groups of people face different circumstances and challenges. This means that simply offering equal opportunities isn’t going to be enough.
Equity means each individual must get the exact resources they need to achieve equal outcomes with their peers. Equity recognizes that the effects of discrimination and disadvantages go far deeper than most people are willing to admit.
Examples of challenges faced by women practicing lawSome of the most prominent challenges faced by women practicing law are:
#: The tight trope problemWomen have to balance between being too aggressive and being too feminine. When they are too aggressive, they receive backlash for being masculine; if they are too feminine, they are perceived as pushovers.
#: The maternal aspect of thingsWhen women take maternity leave, they are denied promotional and work opportunities not denied to men.
#: Compensation biasEven when they are on the same level as their male counterparts, women are still perceived as doing a different amount of work than their colleagues, so they receive lower financial compensation.
#: Unconscious biasFemale lawyers in courtrooms have been mistaken for reporters and other non-legal duties because people still don’t expect them to be practicing lawyers.
#: InterruptionsAccording to Harvard Business Review, female Supreme Court justices were interrupted three times more than their male counterparts. This shows that discrimination reaches even the highest court in the land. This happens to female lawyers as well.
Examples of challenges faced by racial minorities practicing lawBelow are some of the most common challenges faced by racial minorities practicing law:
#: Perception of not being good enoughMany minorities still experience a lack of confidence in both their law firms and their clients. This impacts their overall confidence performance.
#: Punishment for speaking out against injusticeWhen minorities speak out against injustice at law firms, they are perceived as “trouble makers” and thus blacklisted against future promotional opportunities.
#: Prove it again biasWomen of color report being asked to prove that they are actually competent at their jobs. This interferes with their efficiency
How law firms can promote equityLaw firms can promote equity by implementing ideas like…
#: Offering more promotions to womenAfter the worst part of the COVID-19 crisis had passed between January 2020 and January 2022, it was observed that nearly all male workers in the legal profession regained their jobs, but women didn’t return to the workforce at the same rates.
Women didn’t return because they faced burnout at work and weren’t getting enough promotional opportunities. Although more women are graduating from law schools than men, the number of female partners in firms has not exceeded its approximate range of 20%. Women also report disproportionate burnout due to balancing familial responsibilities at home.
Women should receive more promotional opportunities, but cultural forms of discrimination still burden them, impacting their work performance.
#: Creating mentorship programs targeting womenSheryl Sandberg’s MENTOR HER program was created to encourage people to offer greater mentorship opportunities to women so they can learn how to get to the top of corporate America.
#: Recognize holidays meant to recognize minoritiesBlack history month and pride month should be used as moments of reflection to determine how much progress has been made in a law firm to promote equity amongst the various disadvantaged groups.
#: Offer minorities greater opportunities to have their voices heardMinorities face unique challenges in the workplace and should get a greater voice to make their views and feeling known.
#: Hire diversity officersDiversity officers have one job: find highly skilled individuals to help the firm achieve its goals while recognizing the need for a more diverse work environment.
#: Promoting equity in the worldLawyers also have the power to promote equity in the world through the cases they take. Cases against injustice perpetrated against women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are a great way to promote greater fairness and justice in the world.
Journey to Esquire®️ The Podcast
These posts were proofread by Grammarly
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.