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Joining a law firm? Choose the right one for you with these 4 tips

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For all law students, joining the right firm can be an agonizing decision because it can have an enormous impact on career trajectory. But for female and minority students, the inquiry is even more nuanced: How does one tell if a firm is truly committed to diversity and inclusion? While many firms tout their commitment to service, diversity and inclusion, and professional development of its junior attorneys, law students should consider the following tips when evaluating a firm’s culture to determine if it is the right fit.

1. Take a closer look at the firm’s pro bono work

Pro bono work is often a good indicator of a firm’s values and commitment to not only public service generally but also to its attorney population specifically. Does the firm encourage and support its attorneys to do pro bono work? Is the firm generally aware of the hot legal issues affecting underrepresented communities? Research how many hours of pro bono work lawyers at the firm do. Ask if pro bono hours count toward billable hour requirements. Is there a cap on pro bono hours that are counted as billable? Which clients has the firm provided pro bono service to? Having this information can provide insight into to how the firm values public service.

Ask about which organizations and programs the firm is involved with to determine whether that support matches their stated commitments. Look at the boards and associations attorneys are members of and evaluate how their interests align with your own. A simple search of attorneys’ web bios on firm websites will reveal some of this information.

2. Get to know your prospective colleagues

It’s hard to get accurate picture of a firm’s culture without talking to attorneys who work there. As a summer associate, do your best to meet one-on-one with attorneys you want to learn more about—it’s on you to take the initiative. If you are considering a firm you have not worked for, arrange a call or in-person meeting with a junior lawyer. Start with your law school’s career center and see if you can find alumni/ae from the same school at your firm of interest. If not, don’t be afraid to send a cold email or place a cold call—if attorneys aren’t busy, they’re generally willing to help.

And of course, before the meeting or call, do your homework. Check the attorney’s firm web bio and LinkedIn profile. Asking the right questions will help you determine if associates feel supported by management and are satisfied with the firm’s culture. As a prospective associate, you should ask women and diverse attorneys at all levels what ideas or proposals they’ve suggested that the firm has supported. Even an implemented suggestion as simple as changing the cups in the office kitchen from Styrofoam to ceramic mugs is a good sign of how associates are treated and valued by the firm. Asking attorneys whether the firm has embraced their suggestions is a strong indicator of how your ideas and initiatives will be received.

3. Research how decisions get made

Another strong indicator of a firm’s commitment to the development of its attorneys is whether junior lawyers are represented on firm committees. Are there any non-partners on firm-wide committees? Which ones? What are their roles? Have they been able to lead any of the firm’s initiatives? It’s one thing for a firm to say that it supports associates, but the inclusion of junior lawyers, including diverse ones, in the firm decision-making processes will confirm it.

4. Find out if the firm is “Mansfield Certified”

The Mansfield rule is an initiative to close the gap in leadership roles for women and minorities in major law firms. In 2017, 44 law firms and 55 corporate legal departments pledged to have women or minorities make up at least 30 percent of candidates for any leadership or governance positions, including lateral hires and equity partner promotions, as part of the initiative.

This summer, Mansfield 2.0 broadened the agreement and expanded the initiative to include LGTBQ+ attorneys. Under Mansfield 2.0, firms will measure the participation of underrepresented lawyers in client pitch meetings and establish transparency for the firm’s appointment and election processes. Each year, the program certifies law firms that successfully implemented the previous year’s initiatives. In 2018, 41 law firms were certified for meeting the requirement to consider “at least 30 percent women and attorneys of color for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, and senior lateral positions.”

If diversity and gender equality is important to you, check to see if the firm you’re considering has signed on to the Mansfield rule.

It’s not always easy for prospective associates to evaluate whether a law firm’s culture is as inclusive as advertised. But by following these tips, you can get a better idea of whether a law firm is a good fit for you.