Law Firm Diversity: Marketing Professionals can Lead the Conversation and Implement Strategies

Boston LMA Diversity Panel Sept. 2018 (1).jpg
Boston diversity program panel (from left): Marianne Koutbetey, Bernard Guinyard, Josefina Bonilla (moderator), Courtney Scrubbs and Brent Henry


As Marianne Kotubetey, senior corporate counsel at Osram Sylvania, Inc. said at the LMA Boston September lunch program, “Diversity is the invitation to the dance; inclusion is being asked to dance."  

That astute observation demonstrates that a law firm diversity and inclusion program is not a bandage that you rip off when it’s been set up, but rather a long-term strategy that must be thoughtfully implemented and supported over time to be successful. 

Marketing professionals can play a vital role in communicating and implementing a strategic diversity and inclusion program built for the long haul, according to a panel of speakers at Boston's September 18 lunch program, "Building Law Firm Growth Through Diversity." 

Law firm marketers have to "make it easy to understand a firm's diversity and inclusion strategy, and to communicate a genuine commitment to the strategy," said panel moderator Josefina Bonilla, president and chief diversity officer of Color Magazine. "You need to be well-poised to speak to a variety of people with differing ethnic and racial backgrounds." 

Marketing leaders "can move the needle by figuring out the drivers to get things done and persuading 'influencers' to be champions" of a diversity and inclusion program, Bernard Guinyard, director of diversity and inclusion at Goodwin Procter, told the packed room of approximately 40, who braved the remnants of Hurricane Florence to attend the program. 

A meaningful diversity and inclusion initiative needs years to develop, the panel emphasized, because it's significantly more complex than just meeting a numeric goal. 

Effectively articulating the primary reasons for a diversity and inclusion initiative is essential, the panelists agreed. Otherwise, absent a compelling business justification, a diversity initiative will eventually die on the vine. 

"It's about bringing in different values, perspectives, and mindsets, and bringing in the best talent" to better serve clients, Kotubetey said.  

Law firms need to ensure that minority attorneys have meaningful opportunities to not only participate in business development pitches to prospective clients, but also to take on key roles in legal matters and work directly with clients, panelists agreed. 

Brent Henry, former general counsel of Partners HealthCare and now partner at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, said corporate counsel make an effort to hold law firms accountable: "In-house counsel will review legal bills to see if diverse attorneys are working on matters. Diverse attorneys can't just be part of a pitch team."  

Henry observed that law firms would be well-served to seek feedback from corporate counsel on whether they are meeting their clients' expectations on diversity and inclusion. 

Law firms "can't fake this," said Courtney Scrubbs, corporate counsel at Sanofi and immediate past president of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association. "A firm's commitment to diversity and inclusion is apparent based on its activities and communications." 

Effective implementation requires "buy in" from attorneys at all levels, according to Guinyard. "It can't be top down only. There has to be effective mentoring and access to key clients. Associates need to hold law firm leadership accountable." 

As Scrubbs noted, "It's the middle folks in their day-to-day interactions" who can communicate the value of the program.  

Once a minority attorney is hired, a firm should make them feel welcome by providing meaningful opportunities for career advancement through the matters assigned to them, interaction with senior partners and direct client contact, Kotubetey added. 

The overall focus should be on developing talent and building relationships, panelists told the audience.

Holding quarterly feedback meetings with minority attorneys can be an effective tactic for measuring the success of a diversity and inclusion program, according to Guinyard. Another tactic, he said, is to conduct regular internal surveys on engagement in firm matters. 

Metrics that in-house counsel track, according to Henry, include credit given to diverse attorneys for working on matters, the number of diverse attorneys on matter pitch teams, and the overall number of diverse attorneys at a firm. 

Ultimately, Henry said firms need to listen to minority attorneys, invest in them, and make sure they feel like they've been treated fairly. 

The diversity and inclusion program was hosted by McDermott Will & Emery, and co-sponsored by Lawyers Weekly and Next Level Promotions. 

Exciting programs to look forward to over the next couple months are the LMANE Regional Conference in Boston on Oct. 25-26, and the November 14 lunch program on social media marketing for law firms. We hope you can attend!

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