We tend to end our interviews with a parting question. It’s usually something along the lines of, “Is there anything we haven’t asked or discussed that you would like to talk about and/or we should have asked?” Interestingly, the last three of four interviews I have held concluded with the same response: diversity.
Maybe it is a result of the times and recent news of harassment and inequity, but my personal opinion is it is here to stay and law firms are going to need to make impactful change to respond or take the risk of losing meaningful and large client relationships.
During my interviews, the diversity topic meant something a little different to each person. One conversation related to the renewed importance of diversity to the company. The next discussion was related to the firm’s poor performance in the area. The last was an interviewee’s call to action around maintaining, growing and fostering a place for women to succeed. This is not a new theme, and firms have struggled with meaningful change in this area for quite some time, but we are seeing a passion, commitment and focus around demanding impactful change from law firms.
Diversity matters to clients. It is no longer a wish or a goal. They are no longer simply tracking it. They want it, expect it and will go elsewhere to find it. And while diversity means something different to each client, it absolutely includes diversity of people (gender, race, ethnicity, LGBT), and it also includes diverse ideas, approaches, experiences, expertise and age. A client recently talked about the value of a client experience and the attorney’s ability to “think outside of the box and approach things in a way that we simply never think about because of his life experiences and creative thinking.” Clients want diverse lawyers working on files, playing meaningful roles in meetings, leading cases and deals and being the primary point of contact for an organization. We recently heard about a very large company mandating that their top outside law firm relationships have a two-person relationship partner model, and one of the individuals has to be diverse and/or there had to be a 15+ age difference between the two relationship lawyers.
In-house departments are becoming more and more diverse. We hear frequent missteps regarding pitch meetings or client kick-off meetings where the client is represented by a diverse group and the law firm brings in only white males.
This problem did not start overnight and it will be not fixed overnight, but firms that are not implementing change or understanding their clients’ expectations in this area may experience their own drastic changes. For many firms, this starts with a conversation and understanding of your clients’ goals and expectations. Consider having these conversations:
- We understand that diversity is particularly important to you and your organization. We share your values and vision and have made the following steps to make impactful change at our firm. But we understand we can do more and want to learn from you regarding your specific expectations and key things we can be doing to meet your needs now.
- Many of our clients have diversity initiatives in place, and we have found value in collaboration with our diversity programs and initiatives. Can we set up a time to learn more about what you all are doing well in this area and how we may collaborate to help us both succeed in this area?
- While we have been working together for many years and you have clearly expressed the importance of diversity to you, we have never scheduled time to learn about the details of your initiative/program and how we can better align with your goals.
- You know us well, and we have greatly enjoyed our long-term partnership. It occurs to me that your department has evolved and grown significantly in that time, and we have not taken the time to understand how some of your priorities and initiatives have grown and changed. Diversity is clearly important to you all. Can we schedule time to discuss what you are specifically doing and seeing from other firms and how we might be able to improve in this area?
At Wicker Park Group, we like to say “one size fits one.” Each client will be a little different and every conversation may have a slightly different focus, but the key is to start the conversation or continue having it. Be intellectually curious about how you can improve. Be passionate about change and include your diverse lawyers in the conversations. Call your clients and engage them in the conversations. Create a client advisory board and collaborate together on impactful change. Diversity matters to clients. Show them it matters to you.