Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Clients are Choosing Law Firms That Are Diverse

If you’re not convinced that diversity is vital to the success of your practice, you might want to ask your clients how they feel about it.

Increasingly, clients – especially corporate ones – are choosing to do business only with law firms that embrace diversity and inclusion.

Take Microsoft, for example. For close to a decade, its Law Firm Diversity Program has offered bonuses to outside firms that increase the diversity of their partners.

Hewlett-Packard, on the other hand, uses a stick instead of a carrot. It withholds 10 percent of invoiced fees from firms that fail to meet minimal diverse staffing requirements. HP also requires diversity progress reports from its lawyers four times annually.

Other companies are publicly calling out law firms that come up short. In January, 170 general counsels and corporate legal officers wrote an open letter criticizing many of their outside firms for having new partner classes that were “largely male and largely white.” The group spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on legal services and promised to “direct our substantial outside counsel spend to those law firms that manifest results.”

These and other client-driven initiatives come at a time when diversity is lagging at BigLaw firms.

“Women comprise only 19 percent of equity partnerships at the biggest firms,” reports the ABA Journal. “Just 9.1 percent are minority partners.”

Diverse Firms are More Effective

The clients pushing for more diversity in outside counsel say it’s not just the right thing to do, it also produces better legal work.

“We’ve seen quantifiable progress as a result of our incentive-based approach,” says a Microsoft general counsel in the ABA Journal article. “We believe that these advances have increased the quality of the representation we get and improved our results.”

Julie D. Beavers, Director of Client Services at Lawyers Mutual, says a diverse workforce is a more effective workforce.

“Studies from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and elsewhere suggest that top management teams with a high representation of women had better financial performance than teams with fewer women,” she said at Lawyers Mutual’s Managing Partner Summit in March. “Eighty-five percent of large global enterprises say diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace, 79 percent believe diversity has a positive impact on company culture, and 83 percent of executives say a diverse workforce improves the company’s ability to capture and retain a diverse client base.”

What Can You Do?

Here are some pointers from Beavers for promoting diversity and inclusion at your firm:

  • Understand what diversity is. “There is a misconception that diversity only pertains to certain persons or groups. Lots of aspects of the law have a diversity aspect. Diversity is defined as all characteristics and experiences that define each of us as individuals. It is based on individual acceptance and respect. It is an understanding that individuals are unique and different.”
  • Recognize that visible characteristics are the tip of the iceberg. “The elements of diversity range from age, gender and race to lifestyle, personality, and political beliefs. The visible elements like gender, race and physical ability are only the tip of the iceberg.”
  • View diversity as an asset. “Lead employees by example. Incorporate diversity and inclusion in your team/section policies, strategy and operational procedures. Create opportunities for talented employees to be exposed to leaders.”
  • Know what messages you’re sending. “Does your firm speak to women, minorities and millennials? Are you trying to reach them on their platforms? Social media, LinkedIn? Are your opportunities attractive to women and minorities? Do your employment benefits include maternity benefits, family benefits?”
  • Understand the interplay of diversity and inclusion. “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Verna Myers


What does your firm do to promote diversity?

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

Read More by Jay >

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