Future Leaders Program Review: The Business Case for Diversity

On December 13, 2016, Lia Dorsey, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, was the principal speaker at the LMA Future Leaders SIG Brownbag program. Her presentation titled, “The Business Case for Diversity,” explored the differences between diversity and inclusion and provided a blueprint for how legal marketers can support their firms in this area.

Diversity or Inclusion?

To better promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, we must first understand the key differences between the two. Diversity and inclusion expert and best-selling author on the topic, Verna Myers, defined it best when she said, “Diversity is being asked to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”

The definition of diversity is fluent and ever-changing; the easiest way to define it is as the number of diverse individuals or the demographics of a firm. Inclusion, on the other hand, is the initiatives and programs put into place to foster equal opportunities for all. For example, when Harvard Law School first admitted women, they neglected to create a women’s restroom at the facility. The school had gender diversity, but lacked inclusion. A firm can have a high number of diverse individuals, but lack real opportunities to foster inclusion at the same time.

What Is Driving Firm Diversity?

Client demand continues to be the largest motivating factor behind enhanced diversity numbers. More clients are asking for, and expecting to see, improved diversity at the firms they obtain services from. Additionally, the American Bar Association recently adopted Resolution 113, which urges clients to seek out opportunities for diverse attorneys, and to direct a greater percentage of the legal services they purchase to diverse attorneys. So far, more than 60 companies have signed on to this resolution and it’s important to check if any of these companies are your firm’s clients.

Companies have found a number of ways to become influential clients in this area in order to comply with Resolution 113. Some companies, such as Microsoft, have developed law firm diversity programs. These programs are designed to give financial bonuses and other recognitions to firms that meet diversity expectations. On the other end, a number of companies have penalized their firms for missing the mark on diversity, and Walmart has even gone as far as to dismiss firms.

With clients increasingly expecting to see a more diverse team of lawyers working on their matters, it will be important for firms to demonstrate diversity in order to retain and grow their business.

What Can Firms Do?

There are a number of initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion that are already being implemented by a variety of law firms. In many cases, the push for diversity has been driven from the top as part of a firm’s strategic plan. Positions are being created, such as director of diversity and inclusion, and firms are diversifying the composition of their leadership and management committees. Firms can also host training events on a number of diversity-related topics, including unconscious bias and generational, cultural, or gender differences. Some firms have formalized affinity groups and host firm-wide retreats for their diverse attorneys. While many firms have mentorship programs between partners and younger attorneys, some firms have begun sponsorship programs where a partner actively advocates on behalf of their sponsor attorney. These are just a few of the many programs and initiatives that law firms can undertake in their efforts to promote and foster diversity and inclusion.

Diversity Personalities

There are four different types of diversity personalities, which greatly affect how individuals act towards diversity and inclusion initiatives and ideas. The first type is the leader, or champion of diversity. These are the people who really believe in diversity and will do anything within their power to grow inclusion efforts. The supporters are cheerleaders of diversity. This group is there to help when asked to step in. The third type is the bystander. The majority of people fall into this category. This group wants to help, but doesn’t know how to help or even if they can help. Leaders spend a majority of their time trying to convert the bystanders. The final type is the obstructer. These are the naysayers who believe that the status quo will never change and too many resources are being wasted on these efforts.

What Can You Do?

There a number of ways that each and every legal marketer can do to support diversity and inclusion at our firms. You can reach out directly to your firm’s diversity and inclusion leaders and find ways to get involved. You can take time to fully understand your firm’s diversity goals and get to know the diverse attorneys in your practice groups. You can recommend these diverse attorneys for appropriate pitch teams. You can attend diversity-related events and become more culturally competent.

In the war for diverse talent it is imperative for law firms to distinguish themselves by developing a strong diversity and inclusion program. Not only will it lead to more talented lawyers at the firm, but it will also generate new business with clients that are placing more value on law firm diversity. The most important thing legal marketers can do for diversity and inclusion is to communicate with all diversity personalities and continue to ask questions.

By Brian Gallagher, Media Relations Assistant, McDermott Will & Emery, LLP, for the November/December 2016 issue of Capital Ideas Newsletter

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