The Untapped Potential of Affinity Groups

Most midsize and large law firms offer well-established affinity groups as part of their inclusion efforts. The groups provide women, LGBTQ+ individuals, those with disabilities, new parents, people of color and those from other underrepresented backgrounds with a safe and supportive space to tackle workplace issues.

Yet affinity groups can also be powerful engines for change. As Skadden’s Chicago Black affinity group leader explained: “By supporting affinity groups and encouraging participation, a firm creates an environment where attorneys feel included and empowered to make an impact. This, in turn, can spur immeasurable growth, both for an individual attorney and for the firm as a whole.”

Making the most of affinity groups 

Here’s how firms can supercharge their affinity groups, empower group members to increase their visibility, build their networks and impact firm culture.

  1. Provide a budget for professional development. Affinity groups can be a resource for lawyers to obtain valuable business development skills. A budget allows the group to offer training sessions, invite speakers to present and host networking events.

  2. Offer marketing resources. Since affinity group members have already established a significant bond, they’re more likely to support each other’s business-development efforts. With the support of an in-house or external marketing resource, group members can better identify opportunities to co-author and publish an article or nominate each other for awards. And with a boost on social media, members can extend their connections on LinkedIn or other channels. Consider scheduling a social media “takeover” — where an affinity group posts content on the firm’s social media account for a day or week. It’s a networking opportunity for group members, and a way for the firm to demonstrate its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

  3. Give affinity groups a voice. Make sure affinity groups aren’t “preaching to the choir” by providing a platform for them on the firm’s internal communications channels. Encourage affinity groups members to share the work they’re doing across the firm. Better yet, ask a firm leader to tout the group’s efforts. In addition to bringing visibility to their work, it further demonstrates the firm’s support of DEI initiatives.

Many affinity groups have thrived, in part, because firm leaders implemented cultural changes to adapt during the pandemic. Now, affinity groups are gaining recognition as effective recruiting and retention tools. Firms should make the most of affinity groups for many reasons — but most of all because employees who are treated well want to stay with their firm.

For attorneys at smaller firms that don’t have the resources to organize their own affinity groups, outside associations can play a similar role. Organizations like the Women’s White Collar Defense Association and the Black Women Lawyers’ Association work with members to build networks, support one another with award nominations and deliver professional development programming. Law firm marketers can help steer attorneys to professional groups like these and others that can offer much-needed to support to attorneys who might not have a robust peer group within their firms.