Understand Your Role in an Important Initiative
President Barack Obama was midway through his second term in office and I was living in one of my favorite cities, Washington, D.C., in the middle of it all. It was 2015, and Facebook was joining tech superpowers like Google and Yahoo by releasing its diversity statistics to the public for the second year in a row. More and more, companies were disclosing in response to the harsh criticism of the lack of diversity in the tech industry amongst current and former employees. With an African-American president in office for his second term and more companies sharing detailed reports and analysis on diversity and inclusion, I was not expecting to see another industry facing the pressure of transparency in this area. That is, until I saw The Washington Post headline, “Law is the least diverse profession in the nation. And lawyers aren’t doing enough to change that.”
Firstly, Why Does Diversification in Law Matter?
In February 2017, the general counsel of HP announced that the company would withhold up to 10 percent of its invoiced fees if law firms did not reach the company’s expected diversity standards. Not only did this mandate impact big law, but small firms as well (U.S.-based firms with 10 or more lawyers). Using data as a strategy to ensure diversity and inclusion is not going away any time soon. Companies who require diversity in outside counsel do so for good reason. The business case for creating diverse teams that provide business and legal solutions to organizations has been well-researched and proven. In addition to being more innovative and helping companies increase financial returns, it is important that business and legal teams reflect the interests and backgrounds of the customers those organizations serve. This helps companies tell a consistent and authentic story about the communities and individuals with which they do business.
As more companies demand statistical data that backs up firms’ diversity mission statements, the response to these data requests must go beyond adding a page on our website that states our commitment to diversity or adding more inclusion programs that often lack the appropriate funding to sustain themselves or remain effective. In fact, in an article by Bloomberg Big Law Business, such inclusion programs were found to be ineffective in their approach to attract diversity and generate results.
Where Is the Disconnect?
According to the 2015 Washington Post article, Lawyers polled did not see anything wrong with their firm’s diversity numbers. In fact, they saw barriers being lifted with diversity numbers on an upward trajectory, rather than a downward spiral or stagnant. Consider this the glass-half-full mindset. However, in 2015, the numbers showed the exact opposite.
According to the National Association for Law Placement, in 2016, the vast majority of equity partners in multi-tier firms were white men with only 18.1 percent women and 6.8 percent racial/ethnic minorities.
Yes, the paradigm of cultural inclusion may have shifted, but a closer look at the data just two years after these reports and headlines reveals a slightly different narrative that tells us we still have more work to do.
So What Can Legal Marketers Do?
If affinity groups don’t create the outcomes we are looking for, and if the transparent presentation of data is required, what can we do to ensure that these numbers satisfy the Fortune 500 companies’ and formidable startups’ reasonable demands? As legal marketers, we have a unique opportunity to influence the culture of our firms.
- Set the Narrative
More often than not, we as legal marketers are the first to read the RFP or to draft the pitch to send to our firm’s potential client. During the initial strategy sessions that determine who will be presented as the main team or who will be in the room at that initial meeting, it is imperative that we encourage diversity and provide lawyers with the reasons written in the headlines to back it up. (Our clients don’t just want diversity; they demand it with the dollars to back it up.)
- Become a Change Agent With Recruiting
All of this is impossible to do without a diverse make-up of minority partners and associates. On average, Am Law 200 firms have only 8 percent minority partners. As marketers, we have the chance to go outside our role in the client-facing process by working alongside our recruiting teams to draft compelling marketing materials and develop strategies to attract and promote a diverse candidate pool.
- Put Plans Into Action
In 2016, amidst the discouraging headlines, I had the opportunity to work with my former marketing team and managing partner to create a strategy for our diversity initiatives. We used an upcoming program hosted by the firm as an opportunity to invite the dean of the Howard University School of Law to learn more about our firm. For years, the firm had concentrated its recruiting and marketing efforts on the surrounding schools in the Washington, D.C. area. After a candid and open discussion on diversity, we agreed that diversity was a decision that required action. We used this introduction as a means for diversifying our candidates in future years, who otherwise were being attracted by larger firms.
Is diversity a priority that is being discussed by equity or managing partners? If it isn’t – it should be, because it is increasingly being discussed by key clients. Are you in the room for those discussions? Do these discussions lead to action? Is there someone on staff serving as the chief of diversity and inclusion who analyzes this internal data and champions it with meaningful action steps and strategies?
Inclusion is more than just a seat at the table, it is providing a voice during the decision making process at that table as well.
Did You Know? LMA has a newly formed Diversity Implementation Task Force (DITF) that is a cross-section of LMA members appointed to evaluate and report on the need for LMA diversity activity and to provide a recommended action plan for board consideration. The DITF is led by José E.V. Cunningham, chief marketing and business development officer at Nixon Peabody LLP, and Iris J. Jones, chief business development and marketing officer at McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC. More information about the DITF and next steps in diversity activities will be available soon.
Terra S. Davis is an area development coordinator for Holland & Knight LLP in Dallas, Texas, where she assists in the marketing and communications efforts of its Texas offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston. She has served as a legal marketer for five years. Terra is also the programming chair of the LMA Southwest Dallas Local Group. She is a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C.