Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinic Research with the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession

Executive Summary

by Audrey J. Lee, Perspectiva Consultant to the IILP

Effective communication skills are a lawyer’s stock in trade.  They are essential, and should they break down, fail completely, or simply fall short of their goals, the consequences can be dire.  For a profession so dependent upon its communication skills, it is surprising that there has not been more analysis examining how lawyers communicate with one another.  One area ripe for further examination is the way in which lawyers communicate regarding diversity and inclusion issues.  Specifically, how do lawyers discuss perceptions of bias and differential treatment, and what policies and practices do legal institutions have in place to manage these types of communications and potential misunderstandings within the profession?

The Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession (“IILP”) partnered with the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (“HNMCP”) to study how law firms communicate internally on sensitive topics such as perceptions of bias and discrimination and learn what effect, if any, such communications – in their content, their delivery style, or their speaker – might have upon the satisfaction and success of lawyers who are diverse within large law firms.  IILP and HNMCP were interested in learning what law firms are doing and what could be improved regarding their internal infrastructure and communication policies, protocols, and systems to enhance the effectiveness of their ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts.  Of special interest was the goal of learning how attorneys and law firms handle the resolution of a wide variety of diversity related disputes or conflicts ranging from informal differences of opinion, to issues with stated or actual policies, to more formal disputes.  

Organizing Principles. 

Our background research, interview findings, and recommendations are structured according to three overarching principles:

  • (1)   Communication about diversity and inclusion within the firm;
  • (2)  Available processes and resources for conflict management;
  • (3)  Attorney engagement in conflict management and, to the extent that it is relevant, in diversity- and inclusion-related initiatives.

Three Takeaways.

  • (1)   Orrick is ahead of the curve.
  • (2)  Robust diversity and inclusion programs do not necessarily translate to effective conflict management.
  • (3)  Conflict management is cultural. Unequivocal visible support from Orrick’s leadership is a must.


We make specific recommendations for how to improve

  • (1)   communication, e.g., enhancing conflict management training for attorneys so that they have the tools to participate in open and inclusive dialogue;
  • (2)  conflict management processes, e.g., clarifying and improving the roles of key people such as mentors and the ombudsman; and
  • (3)  attorney engagement, e.g., creating incentives for attorneys to engage more fully in active conflict management.

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