X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Here are a few pertinent questions: Does race and gender diversity really make a difference in the legal profession? What is the return on investment for diversity initiatives? Is it measurable? What really constitutes a best practice? If these questions directly or indirectly underlie most diversity discussions, the profession can at least begin answering them by pointing out that the bottom-line impact of diversity in a global marketplace is now obvious. Most firms already understand that not just new business generation, but also existing client relationships, are demonstrably nurtured by successful diversity initiatives. In turn, better client relationships lead to bigger client engagements. In large part, that’s because a law firm’s clients have a few clients of their own. The spending power of the United States’ ethnic minorities will soon exceed $2 trillion, outpacing the growth in majority consumers. Jeffrey M. Humphreys, “The Multicultural Economy 2006,” 66(3) Georgia Business and Economic Conditions 1, 2 (2006). The gay and lesbian community in the United States, meanwhile, holds an estimated buying power of $800 billion. “30-Second Interview: Jefferey Newman,” Interactive Week, Aug. 30, 1999, at 20. Corporate America has taken notice, and corporate America expects the law firms it hires to do the same. Client directives trickling down to the legal industry have placed more pressure on more firms to demonstrate their commitment to diversity � with, it should be noted, more requests for actual diversity statistics. Some companies have terminated relationships with firms that have failed to show such tangible evidence of a commitment to diversity within its ranks. See, e.g., Karen Donovan, “Pushed by Clients, Law Firms Step up Diversity Efforts ,” N.Y. Times, July 21, 2006, at C6. What most firms fail to realize is that it is their approach to diversity � not just the depth or sincerity of their commitment � that separates the firms that succeed from the ones that don’t. Senior managers must genuinely support all diversity initiatives or else their actions will be perceived as mere window dressing. A “diversity brand” must be established to distinguish the firm from the pack. And communicating that commitment within the firm and to the outside world cannot be an afterthought. Ultimately, the plan that wins on all fronts will be the one that best establishes a common ground. Success is fostered by an aggressive approach that factors in individual accountability and measurable results as well as institutional brand development. Firms that take a myopic approach will fail. Their problems can be attributed to a lack of commitment from the leadership, a failure to make thorough assessments and a penchant for measuring success as if they were counting crayons in a box. Results must be measured by qualitative as well as quantitative indices. If law firms are being pressured by their clients, they can learn a few best practices from those same clients. After tracking the diversity efforts of some of the nation’s largest companies, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reported recently that progress is occurring at a measured pace � albeit very measured, with most companies giving an average performance, at best. The organization recently produced a best practices guide for corporate executives, diversity practitioners and human resource professionals aimed at addressing diversity and inclusion in corporate America. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP Economic Reciprocity Initiative 2007 Best Practices Guide (2007). The report evaluated companies in five areas: employment, community reinvestment, marketing, supplier diversity and philanthropy. It a template for the legal community that includes: • Senior-level commitment and a process that works. • Recognizing that communication is critical. • Creating a diversity brand using an innovative approach. • Developing a process that ensures inclusion, engagement and optimal performance. • Building minority enterprises through procurement and strategic alliances. As a result of client pressures, almost every law firm in the list of the 200 highest earning firms published by American Lawyer, an affiliate of The National Law Journal, proclaims its commitment to diversity on its Web site. Firms eagerly accentuate milestones, diversity awards and hit-list rankings. Even so, the state of diversity in the legal industry has trailed that in the corporate sector. Persistent problems According to a study published in the Wall Street Journal, “business leaders tend to hire, promote and reward people that look, think and behave like them.” Douglas A. Ready and Jay A. Conger, “How To Fill the Talent Gap: Global Companies Face a Perfect Storm When it Comes to Finding the Employees They Need,” Wall St. J., Sept. 15, 2007, at R1. The issue is well addressed in a study released last year by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession, wherein Asian-American, African-American, Hispanic and Native-American women nationwide reported being excluded from plum opportunities due to institutional discrimination. ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms (2006). Not all the numbers are bad. Diverse attorneys are gaining more visibility through leadership of practice groups. As just one case in point, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker has more than three attorneys of color heading practice groups, and women manage Paul Hastings offices in Atlanta and Washington. Diverse attorneys are running more law offices. As another case in point, four of Bowman and Brooke’s six offices have diverse managing partners: one African-American, one female, one Japanese-American and one Native American. That 134-lawyer firm has four women running separate practices. The numbers for women are generally promising, as 81.1% of firms have women on governing committees, according to results from a recent survey. Marginal improvements are showing in the number of women or minorities who are equity partners and sitting on governance committees. However, the survey also reported a decrease in the number of minority attorneys hired laterally, from 18% in 2004 to 16.99% in 2005. Vera Djordjevich, Vault/MCCA Guide to Law Firm Diversity Programs (2007). More firms are becoming involved in pipeline programs that encourage students to enter the legal profession. For example, more than 7,500 students successfully matriculated through law school and into the legal profession after participating in the Council for Legal Education Opportunity’s prelaw and law school academic support programs. More firms are finding a return on investment for concerted efforts across the board. For example, Pfizer Inc. retained Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, which represents a healthy share of the companies on the Fortune 50 list of the largest corporations, because the firm could show tangible evidence of the capabilities of its diverse teams in all 32 of its offices. Yet persistent, professionwide problems vex the legal industry. Diversity practitioners know the statistics almost by rote. According to the legal placement organization NALP, at last count minorities constituted only around 5% of partners, while 16.7% of associates were minorities. Only around 1.5% of partners were minority women and a little more than 9% of associates were minority women. NALP, Women and Minorities in Private Practice � Additional Perspectives (2007) . In this environment, attempts at quick fixes abound. Particularly self-defeating are the firms that focus too much on a particular facet of the problem, such as recruitment of diverse attorneys, without taking into account, say, whether the firms’ culture or professional development programs nurture the attorneys recruited. Others act only when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission comes calling. Real progress on diversity requires meticulous planning and a strategy that is fully integrated into the business mission of the firm. Without planning, diversity initiatives are ineffective, unconvincing and sometimes contradictory. But a consultant’s report gathering dust in a file isn’t good enough. The plan is itself an action item, to be continuously refined and recharged. Equally important is how the firm communicates its commitment to its diversity plan � and what’s reported outside the firm. As a critical subset of communications, crisis rehearsal exercises can be a big part of diversity planning and implementation, as they will focus the firm’s attention precisely on where it is failing. For example, legal blogs � required reading for all communications planners and crisis managers � routinely illustrate the disconnect between the mottos that firms gin up for public consumption and what is really being thought, said and remembered within the firm and on the outside. Even the chatter one hears at professional conferences on diversity frequently tells a tale of internal strife simmering beneath institutional surfaces. Law firms also can take a cue from their corporate clients on the communications front. Denny’s Corp., the restaurant chain that during the early 1990s was the target of a number of lawsuits alleging discrimination against minority patrons, is one of the better examples. Here was a corporation that neglected diversity planning for decades, even as it operated in a multicultural marketplace to a customer base that was highly sensitive to corporate attitudes about social inequities. It is therefore all the more noteworthy that, when Denny’s did finally develop a comprehensive diversity plan, communication was an integrated, and integral, part of the program. Department of Defense, Crisis Communication Strategies, “Case Study: Denny’s Class Action Lawsuit,” at www.ou.edu/deptcomm/dodjcc/groups/02C2/Denny%27s.htm. For law firms, communication is both internal and external. It highlights progress as a way to engender more progress. On this front, the first step is to simply identify and communicate all that a firm has achieved in the recruitment, hiring, retention and business development successes of women and attorneys of color. The next step is to spotlight examples of minority and women attorneys who play significant leadership roles in the partnership, in the legal community and in client-related venues. Communication also is a self-monitoring process, and an increasingly important one as diversity initiatives themselves come under the microscope, subject to complaints that they amount to reverse discrimination. On this front, the first step is to audit all of a firm’s collaterals. The firm should expunge any suggestion of racial, ethnic or gender preferences from its Web site or promotional materials. The next step is to address diversity backlash head-on. Many critics of minority hiring have axes to grind, and their studies are replete with methodological flaws and logical fallacies. It’s worth pointing this out. On such issues, credible diversity managers have everything to gain by taking sides. And firms should not stop communicating. The more they communicate, the more commitment they demonstrate. The more commitment they demonstrate, the more they attract the very people they want to attract and join the still small but growing ranks of law firm success stories. Derede McAlpin, vice president of Levick Strategic Communications, leads the diversity practice for the firm. She can be reached at [email protected]. Levick represents Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, and Bowman and Brooke, law firms mentioned in this article.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.