A New Approach to Tackling the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Challenge

The Facts

According to the 2020 ABA National Lawyer Population Survey, the percentage of lawyers who are men and women of color – Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American and mixed race grew less than 3 percentage points in the past 10 years, from 11.4% of all lawyers in 2010 to 14.1% of all lawyers in 2020.

White men and women are still overrepresented in the legal profession compared with their presence in the overall U.S. population. In 2020, 86% of all lawyers were non-Hispanic whites, a decline from 89% a decade ago. Only 60% of all U.S.residents were non-Hispanic whites in 2019.

On the other hand, nearly all people of color are underrepresented in the legal profession compared with their presence in the U.S. population:

Regarding women specifically, the ABA report offers a better but not a stellar report. Roughly half of all law school graduates have been female since 2000. But despite slow improvements in recent years, the number of women in senior leadership roles at U.S. law firms is far less than half.

About 21% of all equity partners were female in 2019, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers. That’s up from 15% in 2012. About 31% of all non-equity partners were female in 2019, up from 25% in 2011. Women of color are also under-represented among law firm leaders. While 14% of law firm associates were women of color in 2019, they make up only 5% of non-equity partners and 3% of equity partners. Among 103 female lawyers of color surveyed in 2019, 70% reported leaving or considering leaving the legal profession, according to the newly published ABA report “Left Out and Left Behind."

Also, pay for women at U.S. law firms continues to lag behind pay for men in similar positions. The gap grows wider the further up the corporate ladder women go, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers. Among associates, average pay for women was 94% of average pay for men in 2019: $191,810 versus $204,082. Among non-equity partners, average compensation for women was 89% of average compensation for men: $330,571 versus $371,137. Among equity partners, average compensation for women was 86%of average compensation for men: $699,788 versus $809,279.

A New Approach: Lean Six Sigma

By creating a DEI compliance program with LSS, law firms will show their clients how they are taking time-tested business measures to make progress. LSS relies on a number of tools to improve processes. Simple LSS tools, such as the “5 Whys,” Kaizen events and DMAIC cycles can advance DEI. Compared to other DEI programs that do not rely on LSS, our approach creates a solution tailored to the particular law firm’s culture and confronts each firm’s goals and objectives. After all, law firms are businesses.

The DMAIC cycle, or Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, refines, optimizes and stabilizes business processes and designs. We can use DMAIC to tackle DEI at law firms. Applying a collaborative team approach with a Lean Six Sigma facilitator, everyone has a say in describing the problem and designing the solution.

First Define Your Problem

To improve the process of diversity and inclusion using DMAIC, as a first step, we need to define the problem at the particular law firm. We all know the general issue: lack of women and minorities at the top, in leadership roles and at the equity level. But why is that the case at your firm or organization? One size fits all approaches do not work because they are not specific to your issues, your people, your impediments, your culture. Brainstorming techniques and root cause analysis tools like the “5 Whys,” help zero in the root cause(s) of yourculture problems. And let me explain what I mean by culture. Culture is behavior that is either encouraged OR tolerated. Pause and think about this for a few seconds because you may encourage DEI actions and behavior through proclamations, training, mentorship programs, etc. But what behavior do you tolerate?

Second Measure, Third Analyze

Next, we use existing data to measure the problem. By mining your data, we can determine the scope and extent of the problem. We also must analyze the business impact, whether it is client or employee dissatisfaction, lost opportunities, the cost of the proverbial “revolving door,” etc. This is a crucial step to gain stakeholders’ buy-in. Other data points to collect and discuss with the stakeholders can be gathered with outside research, which shows that diversity is strongly correlated with both profitability and value creation. This information must be shared and discussed in a facilitated discussion. The devil is in the details.

Then Improve and Control

An effective way to execute a DEI compliance program with Lean is through a Kaizen event. The selected cross-functional team of attorneys of all races and genders from all levels of the firm then creates an improvement and control plan. T​he team meets for a set amount of time, usually 3 or 5 days, consecutive or not. The cycle of the activity can be defined as: “Plan ⇾ Do⇾ Check ⇾ Act.” You can use this method to plan how to improve diversity and inclusion, measure the results of your progress, check those results, and then act based on what you’ve learned.

The goal is a culture change to achieve a state of continuous process improvement. Controlled continuous improvement takes teamwork; it’s a sustained, results-driven set of methods to advance new initiatives and transform workplace culture while everyone involved shares the commitment to sustained outcomes.

This fresh LSS approach to the DEI challenge specifically may be a novel idea, but we have decades of data and case studies backing up the process we advocate. There are many examples of LSS applied in the manufacturing and services industries, even in legal processes. For example, in 2018, ACC awarded 7-11 with the award for Value Champion for process improvements made in its legal department. To better support management of the company’s legal portfolio – over 10,000 properties –7-Eleven streamlined its law department. Using a value-based sourcing and staffing model, the company realigned its workforce by subject, enabling a better workflow. They also applied LSS methodologies to financial issues. They saw their costs for outside legal counsel on real estate matters drop by 19%, partly from moving some functions in-house. They also lowered new store deal fall-through rates from 25% to almost 1%. Interestingly, our research located a great case study ofLean and Six Sigma in Talent Acquisition conducted at the company Lawson Products using LSS to achieve real results. A few years ago, Lawson took steps to restart the company's growth. One step was the adoption of LSS methodology and tools to improve operational efficiency in all areas of the organization, including in HR. The company reduced its recruiting cycle time by 56 percent by improving a broad range of processes, including the use of technology to streamline some processes.


There is every reason to believe that a Lean Six Sigma approach to DEI in particular will work given its proven results elsewhere. Moreover, we have decades worth of data showing that whatever approaches are being tried, they are NOT working. Given the dismal results other approaches have offered, the utilization of LSS tools in tackling DEI certainly deserves serious consideration.

Needless to say, fostering greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in law firms and other organizations isn’t just a “one and done” solution. You cannot simply check a box. But by having a LSS DEI Compliance Program, you will achieve measurable, continued progress (two of the commandments of LSS), while you enhance lawyer and client satisfaction.Creating a process map, executing the improvement steps in the right sequence, establishing the right control systems, all using a Lean Six Sigma approach, will have a clear, positive impact on the results of your DEI program.

We believe in this approach. If you are willing to do a pilot test, at no cost to you except our out of pocket expenses, contact us today.


Edmunds, K. (2017). How to Put the 5 Whys of Lean Six Sigma on Steroids.[online] Salient Management Company. Available at:​ [Accessed 13 Jun. 2019].

GovLoop. (2015). Continuous Improvement Creates Diversity and Inclusion Opportunities | GovLoop.[online] Available at:
/community/blog/continuous-improvement-creates-diversity-inclusion -opportunities/​ [Accessed 13 Jun. 2019].

ISixSigma. (2010). What Is DMAIC? |iSixSigma.[online] Available at: /new-to-six-sigma/dmaic/what-dmaic/​ [Accessed 13 Jun. 2019].

Fuentes Slater, Lourdes. Peer to Peer: ILTA’s Quarterly Magazine.​ “Legal Process Improvement Through Lean: Bringing the Best of Business to the World of Law.” Spring 2019. [Accessed 12 June 2019.]