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Diversity in 2020: What Your Clients are Saying and How to Prepare

During a virtual conversation with firm leaders in marketing and business development last week, the discussion turned to diversity. The group agreed that everyone is hearing from clients about diversity—and the requests from clients are getting more specific and pointed. One CBDO noted that a very large client has now reserved the right to pull any matter and give it to another firm if the team’s diversity falls below a designated percentage.

Clients want more than just a description of your firm’s diversity efforts. They increasingly want to see numbers including:

  • Overall diversity metrics
  • Firm leadership (EC) diversity metrics
  • Diversity trends over 5- and 10-year periods of time
  • Diversity numbers for each file/matter

One client recently said, “We are being pushed extensively, as a company and as a department, to have more diverse teams. … I want the best people and I have to focus on it so much internally. I can’t possibly add and worry about the law firm’s metrics in this area when we have our own goals and mission in this area. They need to be doing the right things and making changes, but that should not be the client’s burden.”

Another client, reflecting a common refrain, explained, “Diversity is very important to our GC. We want to make sure that we do business with law firms who value diversity and the promotion of diverse attorneys very seriously. We recently sent out a questionnaire to obtain more data from our firms. Our goal was to get a better sense of leadership of demographics. For example, is the leadership of diverse attorneys consistent with the population of attorneys? … The representation and work from diverse lawyers will be an increasingly important aspect of our relationship. Our GC is very, very serious about this and committed to the change.”

The industry has been grappling with improving diversity for years, and if you aren’t already doing it, now is the time to proactively prepare for and have these conversations with clients:

  • Conduct an internal audit of all client diversity requests and categorize them by goal and purpose.
  • If clients have not expressed a specific diversity goal or requirement, have relationship attorneys ask about initiatives and goals in 2021, including diversity expectations of outside counsel.
  • Develop and prepare specific responses to diversity requests.
  • Most importantly, communicate the firm’s diversity initiatives and plans to the lawyers in the firm so they can consistently respond to those inquiries, both formal and informal.
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