Diversity Dialogue Broadening Business Perspectives

Diverse Talent Pathways to the Business of Law

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “A law firm administrator,” says no one ever. 

Chassidy C. Deckard, SHRM-SCP

Over the years, I’ve casually asked “so how did you end up here?” to several of my legal administrator colleagues. The responses range from knowing someone in the industry, needing to find a career to support them financially, wanting experience working in a law firm before deciding on law school, or having an education in a certain specialty field and just applying out of curiosity. Many started their legal management careers at an entry-level position at a firm and work their way up the career ladder.

There are several different paths individuals take to enter and advance their career in the business of law. However, each contains roadblocks that may delay or deny advancement — particularly for diverse candidates and employees.

Compared to most other industries, the legal field is very far behind when it comes to diversity and inclusion. In fact, in a 2022 report about diversity and inclusion in law, the American Bar Association notes: “The legal profession has been very slow to diversify by race and ethnicity over the past decade … In 2021, 85% of all lawyers were non-Hispanic whites.”

To help make a change, it’s important to note that law firms are businesses when discussing careers in law firm management. Like most businesses, there are certain roles and functions needed for these businesses to be successful. As such, in most major firms you will find the departments of finance, marketing, business development, human resources, recruiting, operations and facilities. And much like any other business, many clients are pushing law firms to become more diverse at the attorney ranks. Many law firms have implemented programs to help improve the diversity recruitment numbers for attorneys.

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10 Tips to Attract Diverse Candidates 1. Provide implicit bias training for everyone involved in the selection and hiring process. 2. Include diverse employees in the hiring and selecting process. 3. Review job descriptions to confirm that language is inclusive. 4. Post positions on job boards/websites targeting diverse populations. 5. Remove the names and addresses from résumés. 6. Reconsider if a degree is a requirement to complete necessary job functions. 7. Include salary ranges on job descriptions to ensure pay equity. 8. Require recruiting agencies to submit a certain percentage of diverse candidates for each position. 9. Consider applicable transferrable skills from different industries. 10. Practice inclusive behaviors daily in your organization.

However, there aren’t many programs to address the lack of diversity of legal managers in those same firms. Consider that as of January 2022, ALA reports that 82.2% of members identify as white. That barely places administrators further along than attorneys. However, the lack of client demand, limited internal recruitment, and retention plans and programming — and so few surveys focusing on diversity at the business professional ranks — continue to be roadblocks to becoming an administrator for diverse candidates.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are more than just buzzwords. Equity requires workplace leaders to recognize and acknowledge that systemic barriers deny or delay entry and advancement in the workplace for certain groups. After acknowledging that fact, organizations must actively practice inclusion by creating pathways, policies and processes that value and respect individuals that show up and contribute as their authentic self. Creating these pathways will help attract more diverse candidates to the business of law, thus fostering more diversity.


The Houston Chapter of ALA is working to change this issue by implementing a new diversity pathway internship program for undergraduate students. The chapter has collaborated with Houston law firms to either host an intern for eight weeks or host a lunch and learn meeting. During the internship program, students will work with different departments and have opportunities to network with law firm leaders. Upon completion of the program, each intern will leave with an updated resume, LinkedIn profile, professional headshot and a better understanding of how to have a successful career in the business of law upon completion of their undergraduate studies.

Obtaining a college degree is one way to enter the business of law. While most universities do not offer degrees specifically in law firm management and operations, they do offer degree programs that will provide students with transferable skills needed to be successful in some of the departments listed above. However, there are several reasons — including systemic and economic barriers — why there is a much lower rate of minority students that have a bachelor’s degree. So even though there is merit and a need to foster an academic focus on law administration, it should not be the only path available to diverse individuals.

Using my anecdote of asking other legal managers how they got into the field, DEI efforts should take advantage of how many positions in a law firm are more heavily trained in-house and law firms’ ability to promote within. The availability of entry-level roles such as administrative/executive assistant, office services, facilities and various department assistant or coordinator positions do not always have a degree requirement. These positions as well as the steadily evolving role of the legal secretary are usually for candidates who are looking to gain more experience in a law firm. Successful candidates are generally responsible for administrative tasks such as drafting and proofreading documents, legal research, time entry, invoices, preparing binders, etc. These entry-level positions are great opportunities for diverse candidates to get their foot in the door and learn more about the industry, and they should be a primary focus for attracting diverse candidates. It gives them an easier way to work their way up into legal management.

Business professionals play critical roles in the success of law firms. In top-performing firms, employees are keenly aware of their role and how they contribute to the strategic goals of the organization. It’s time that diversity, equity and inclusion also become critical to the overall strategy and mission in law firms. Having diversity without equity and inclusion is simply just a numbers game. Attracting and hiring diverse candidates is step one of many. Establishing inclusive environments where all employees feel safe to contribute, engage and collaborate as their authentic selves is key. Once you have these cultures in place, your employees will become some of your best recruiters by sharing their positive experiences with others.