A generation ago, getting ahead in law meant fitting into the boys club and being seen as someone with whom senior partners could easily identify. Falling outside this narrowly defined “mainstream” made breaking into the upper levels of management more challenging, regardless of talent and experience. Thankfully, those days are behind us. Today, what sets you apart from the crowd may also be the key to your success. With myriad legal networking opportunities that embrace inclusion, it’s possible to network in a way that celebrates belonging to minority groups and finding cultural commonalities with diverse groups of people.

These are the three steps to kickstart your networking through opportunities that celebrate diversity and embrace inclusion:

State and Regional Bar Associations

Lawyers are fortunate to have a formal network already in place for networking: bar associations. Take full advantage of this system by joining as many bar associations as you can. Each city and state has a bar association, as do specialized practice areas. Many cities and states typically have additional diversity and inclusion oriented bar associations. Here in Southern California, for example, we have the Asian Pacific Women Lawyer’s Alliance, the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, and the Croatian American Bar Association, among others. These groups are an incredible resource. Join the bigger ones and you’ll meet some serious hitters in your industry. The smaller ones offer the chance to form more meaningful connections with those in the group.

Employee Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups are employee-led groups for people with any sort of shared background or experience. For example, your firm might have an Asian American ERG, an LGBTQIA ERG, or a Jewish ERG. These groups may advise your firm on recruitment efforts or help draft updates to the firm’s diversity and inclusion policy. Aside from their formal missions, these groups are a great place to meet people from different areas and levels of your firm outside your day-to-day circle. You’ll have the opportunity to work on projects together outside of your normal business hierarchies, connecting on a personal level based on shared experiences.

National Involvement

National bodies like the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity and the Diversity and Flexibility Alliance are charged with changing the face of the legal profession at the highest levels. Members of these organizations spend their time developing scholarships, encouraging mentorship, and developing initiatives to make the legal profession a more welcoming field for all. Volunteer for these organizations or join as a member and meet some of the most powerful change agents in your field.

We’re fortunate to be working in the legal profession at a time when law firms recognize the very real benefits of making diversity and inclusion a strategic priority. Now is the time to celebrate your diversity and use it as a way to connect with others to help you recruit new talent, share knowledge, build relationships across your firm, and win new business