Corporate Counsel Want Diverse Representation. How Can Your Firm Show Them You Have It AND Can Handle Their Work?

June 18, 2019

A recent American Lawyer piece highlighted a trend that should trouble traditional Big Law firms: their corporate clients are growing weary of waiting for firms to make strides on diversity and inclusion, and many clients are jumping ship to take their work to women- and minority-owned firms.

While many firms play lip service to valuing diversity, the numbers don’t lie: some law firms aren’t hiring and promoting enough women and people of color. This may be because these firms are mired in practices that don’t move the needle, such as endlessly revising toothless mission statements and continuing to silo their diversity and inclusion initiatives in the human resources department. No amount of PR can help you put a positive spin on a roster that persists in being mostly male and white.

But other firms actually have been doing the challenging work of reforming recruiting practices and rethinking how they distribute work, evaluate performance, and compensate their attorneys. And their number show the changes they’ve made. These are firms that corporate counsel would be enthusiastic about working with, if not for one small problem: potential clients don’t necessarily know about the progress taking place at these firms. That’s where skilled PR comes in.

How can you show current and potential clients that your firm includes diverse representation and that your team has the chops to handle the work?

Devote your marketing resources to promoting the subject-matter expertise of your firm’s women and minority attorneys. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many firms miss this opportunity because they continue to think about diversity and inclusion as a separate initiative instead of a thread running through everything they do. Skilled law PR professionals can raise the profiles of your minority attorneys by facilitating relationships with reporters who may use them as expert sources, developing and publishing their thought leadership, and using social media to build their brands.

Be prepared to make a detailed case for how diverse teams perform better. There is data on this. Lots of it. In order to effectively pursue inclusion, you have to understand why and how it works.  

Get comfortable with transparency. If your firm is taking action on changing promotion practices or tackling the pay gap, capture the data that demonstrates your progress and put it front and center on your website where reporters, clients, and potential recruits can see it. Many firms are afraid to share the details out of fear that they are not doing enough, but showing what you are doing, and that you’re evaluating the progress in a serious way, communicates your commitment to this issue.

Become familiar with the strategies and tactics corporate clients are using to assess firms’ progress on D&I. General Counsel for Law Firm Diversity and the National Association of Minority and Women-Owned Law Firms have released action plans for companies to use as they evaluate their outside firms. How does your firm measure up against these guidelines? What can you be communicating in the legal press about who your firm is in 2019 when it comes to a diverse talent pool?

The time is now to get serious about improving your firm’s diversity and inclusion—and improve how you talk about what you’re doing.