BigLaw is not famous for innovation. Some forward thinking BigLaw CIOs advocate change but meet resistance. One explanation is lack of diversity in law firm management. 

My friend Eric Mankin is a business innovation expert and writes a regular column on his web site about innovation. His July 25th piece, Optimizing Diversity, provides important insight about decision-making and diversity: “Innovation thrives on diversity. Not diversity based on gender or ethnicity, but rather diversity of experience.”

Though the power of diversity is well-documented, most teams remain insular because “given a choice, most people would prefer similarity over diversity.” Similarity supports smooth communication but squelches the disagreements that spawn innovation. Too much diversity, however, can lead to so much friction that failure ensues. Eric captures the tension with a nice graphic:

He concludes that “For those charged with improving the quality of innovative efforts, one of the challenges is to encourage the tendencies for diversity in environments that tend towards homogeneity.”

It strikes me that even law firms that promote diversity suffer from the lack of multiple perspectives that Eric describes. Skin color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, and other characteristics may vary, but the funnel to partnership often drives a certain uniformity of thinking.

Advocates of change inside BigLaw will likely gain insight from Eric’s analysis. Acting on this insight, however, is a challenge!