Diversity was a big topic at this year’s Philadelphia Bar Association Bench-Bar Annual Conference in Atlantic City, N.J. As the chair of the law practice management committee, I had the privilege to host “Creating and Maintaining a Diverse and Inclusive Law Practice for All.”

Among the panelists were Naomi McLaurin, director of diversity for the bar association (also course planner); Albert S. Dandridge III, chancellor-elect of the bar association; Sophia Lee, chief counsel for litigation at Sunoco Inc.; and Mary F. Platt, assistant treasurer of the bar association.

During the program, we discussed best practices to create and maintain a diverse and inclusive law practice that offers equal opportunity for advancement for all, with the goal of eliminating bias from business development, client relationship management and procurement.

According to Verna Myers, a leading diversity expert, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Developing and maintaining a diverse law practice includes hiring and nurturing people from many different backgrounds and experiences: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, parental status and much more. Creating an inclusive law practice is about the quality of the experience for lawyers. It means that the law firm practices diversity by creating an environment of involvement, respect and connection (the diverse ideas, backgrounds and perspectives are harnessed to create business value).

According to Dandridge, the first way to create a more diverse law firm environment is to recognize that you have a problem. You next need to get buy-in from firm leadership to do something about it. A budget needs to be set aside to tackle the issues. Experts need to be brought in to help the firm to develop and implement a diversity action plan. And once the plan is implemented, measurement vehicles need to be put in place to constantly review results.

Dandridge and his law firm, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, have developed and implemented a diversity action plan. His law firm addresses diversity and inclusion head-on. They educate all members of the firm, implement best practices and use various metrics to determine if their diversity efforts are working. For example, whoever is invited to participate in a pitch for new business should also work on the business once the firm is retained, said Dandridge. By keeping score, the firm is able to objectively quantify the success of its diversity efforts.

What is your law firm doing to be more diverse and inclusive?

Stay tuned for Part II of this series, which will provide resources for law firms wishing to become more diverse and inclusive.

Gina F. Rubel is an integrated marketing and public relations expert with a niche in legal marketing. The owner of Furia Rubel Communications Inc., she and her agency have won national awards for law firm marketing, PR, website and graphic design, social media, strategic planning, corporate philanthropy and leadership. She maintains a blog at www.ThePRLawyer.com, is a contributor to The Legal Intelligencer’s blog, AVVO Lawyernomics and The Huffington Post. You can find her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter. For more information, go to www.FuriaRubel.com.