The issue of diversity in the modern law firm is a hot issue right now, and rightfully so: Recent figures from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) show that in 2018, just one in five equity partners were women (19.6%) and only 6.6% were racial/ethnic minorities.
And just earlier this year, the all-white partner class at an elite law firm stirred a national debate on law firm diversity, including in-depth coverage in The New York Times. (Yeah, you can’t exactly sweep them under the rug.)
This conversation has left numerous managing partners, diversity committees and legal marketers asking:
- Just how diverse is our firm?
- Do we do enough to showcase our diversity?
- What does diversity truly mean at its core?
Spoiler alert: Simply having an inactive “diversity committee” isn’t enough.
You can’t fake diversity
Ultimately, this comes down to leadership and culture — not a marketing or public relations issue. While PR can amplify a message, “selling” a notion of diversity that doesn’t exist at your firm won’t get you far in a hashtag-happy world drowning in lip service.
The heart of law firm diversity comes down to internal decision-making and the standards set by leadership, such as:
- Where and how do you recruit associates?
- What organizations does your firm support?
- What’s your track record for electing diverse partners?
- Does your firm have mentorship programs for minorities?
- Are diverse attorneys attending the RFP/pitch meeting and doing the work?
- Does the firm educate attorneys on diversity issues such as unconscious bias training?
These are big, important questions — but I’m neither a lawyer or diversity scholar, so I’m not going to tell you how to be a more diverse law firm.
What I can talk about is how to showcase the diversity of a law firm that is actively striving to be diverse. Let’s look at some strategies.
Involving minority lawyers in proactive PR efforts
Do you pitch your lawyers to media publications or work with a PR agency to proactively generate media coverage for them? This is an effective way to generate business and exposure for your firm, so ensure that you have a diverse group of lawyers represented in the media that reflects the mosaic of your firm.
Ensure women and minority lawyers participate in regular “catch up” calls with your PR team so they can stay up-to-date on the lawyers’ cases and identify ways to pitch them for article writing and media interviews (and not just on diversity topics).
The way you demonstrate that your firm is diverse — and that you don’t just pay lip service — is to have those lawyers show up in prominent roles on cases, on bylines and in the news.
Writing original articles and blog posts
Does your firm have a blog? (If not, take it from this attorney: it should.) Do your attorneys regularly submit contributed articles to industry media, legal trade publications or journals? Who is representing your firm in those channels?
Numerous articles have been written on law firm diversity, but perhaps there’s a fresh perspective a lawyer at your firm could offer. Maybe there was a recent landmark case led by one of your minority lawyers that could serve as a timely news peg. Your attorneys don’t just need to write about diversity, though. Again, no matter what they’re writing about, consider who is being afforded the opportunity to write.
Applying for speaking opportunities
Are your lawyers vocal about diversity issues in the legal industry? There are numerous conferences, summits and organizations devoted to diversity in the law. Is your firm a member of any? Do your lawyers participate? Is there an opportunity for them to sit on a panel or give a presentation? These can be worthwhile ways to be a part of the conversation, and even a leader in it, assuming your firm puts its money where its mouth is.
Speaking opportunities don’t just have to be about the topic of diversity, however. What about conferences and seminars in the industries where your firm practices? Who is representing your firm at these networking and business development events? Involve a variety of attorneys to participate and make sure the lawyers you’re submitting to speak represent a cross-section of your firm.
Submitting for legal diversity awards
We all know that legal industry awards are a dime a dozen, and not all of them are worth your time. However, if your firm really is doing an outstanding job when it comes to diversity initiatives and programs, credible industry recognition could help demonstrate your priorities and reinforce your claims.
Updating your website to be more inclusive
It’s 2019. By now you know that your website is one of the first places prospective clients will go to vet your firm (and your social media channels, too). So what does your site say about your firm?
- Does your firm support any diversity organizations?
- Do your lawyers mentor or visit minority law associations at schools?
- Do you have proactive diversity initiatives or programs at the firm?
- Are you lawyers leaders or members of diversity-promoting organizations?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, great! But do you mention any of that on your website? Many modern law firm websites have a diversity and inclusion webpage dedicated to these initiatives.
Also, what kind of visuals does your website employ? Perhaps there’s an opportunity to include more images or feature attorney headshots along with posts about case wins and other firm news. If your law firm is inherently diverse, those images will reflect that.
Diversity isn’t an optics game
I said it before, but I’ll say it again: You can’t fake diversity. These strategies are all ways to elevate and showcase a law firm that is diverse and inclusive, but you’re not going to fool anyone by pretending to be something you’re not. In fact, that can do more harm than anything.
In an article for Law Practice, Micah Buchdahl, Chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Continuing Legal Education, put it well:
“First, diversity is a significant marketing tool; second, you can no longer fool people with a few internal committees, sponsorship of ‘diversity-focused’ events and — my favorite — putting photos of any diverse person in the building all over the website and marketing materials. It has to be real.”
One more time for the people in the back: It has to be real.