Cultivating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Legal: 3 DE&I Takeaways From #LMA20
By Gina Rubel and Jennifer Simpson Carr
The legal industry has the chance to seize a once-in-a-generation opportunity to effect large-scale change regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Leaders in legal marketing recognize the opportunity to create a solid foundation from which future generations can grow. This was underscored at the Legal Marketing Association Virtual Annual Conference (#LMA20).
To optimize creative problem-solving and recruit top talent, law firms have begun to move the needle for DE&I among their legal counsel. Beginning with a keynote speech by Baratunde Thurston, author of the New York Times bestseller, How to Be Black, and host of the podcast How to Citizen with Baratunde, #LMA20 delivered valuable tips on how to incorporate DE&I efforts and antiracism initiatives at law firms. The programs also highlighted how to cultivate better citizenship from within.
During a session titled “Emerging as a Champion for Your Client: Using Data to Innovate and Motivate,” LexisNexis InterAction’s Carrie Johnson, Director of Product Marketing, and Elena Cutri, Director of Education, noted that 71% of law firms view the COVID-19 pandemic as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to spur innovation and meet evolving market demands.
Three Top Takeaways From #LMA20 That Can Help to Create a Lasting Impact at Law Firms
As we think about the ways in which our team is supporting legal industry clients to achieve greater diversity, equity and inclusion, here are our three top takeaways from #LMA20 that we believe can help to create a lasting impact at your law firm.
- DE&I is everyone’s responsibility.
All members of the legal community, inclusive of in-house counsel teams and law firms, are critical strategic partners to internal and external stakeholders as organizations advance diversity and inclusion, Pavani Thagirisa, Associate General Counsel and Vice President, S&P Global, highlighted during the program, “Driving Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Sector and Beyond.”
“Legal is a key player in driving diversity. We must be seen as a key driver in establishing long-term and appropriate D&I initiatives,” Thagirisa said. “It is imperative to listen to what your employees have to say about D&I and give them a platform for discussions and learning.” Racism goes far beyond the most “brutally obvious actions,” she added, and includes the microaggressions that professionals experience in the workplace.
While the J.D. class of 2019’s overall employment rate is the highest in more than a decade, National Association for Law Placement statistics reveal that only about 62% of Black law school graduates secured entry-level legal field employment compared to 80% of their white peers. This significant disparity requires law firms to evaluate their DE&I initiatives designed for recruiting and retaining diverse talent.
During the “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fireside Chat,” Rafeedah Keys, Senior Marketing Manager, Perkins Coie LLP and co-leader of the LMA’s Diversity & Inclusion SIG, and Deborah Ruffins, Chief Marketing Officer, Perkins Coie LLP, noted that everyone at a law firm is responsible for ensuring it comprises diversity among its ranks. Specifically:
- Law firms should communicate expectations to recruiters to bring a diverse group of candidates to the table for both legal and professional roles.
- Law firms will continue to lose Black and brown people, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and women if those firms fail to have sufficient representation of those groups within the firm.
- People of color need to find mentors who look like them within their firms and within ancillary industries like legal marketing.
- Inclusion is not achieved when you are the only Black, brown, LGBTQIA+, or other member of an underrepresented group in the room. If your firm has not moved beyond tokenism, it is everyone’s responsibility to speak up about how people are selected for various roles.
- Represent diversity at your pitch meetings, in your law firm press releases, on your website, in your social media, and in all other external communications.
- When a client gives feedback that it selected your firm because it presented a diverse team, share that information far and wide.
- Client pressure is a strong incentive for DE&I, but it should not be the primary driving force.
- Many organizations must stop resting their diversity hat exclusively on women, especially white women.
- COVID-19’s impact on women in law firms has been devastating.
- DE&I should be authentic, not reactive.
During “How to Share Your Authenticity to Move DE&I Beyond Crisis Response,” panelists Charles Edwards, Media Coach/Crisis Advisor, Jackson Spalding; Julie Wall Khoury, Director of External Affairs, Batch & Bingham LLP; Zach Olsen, President, Infinite Global; Dave Poston, CEO and General Counsel, Poston Communications; and Furia Rubel’s Founder and CEO, Gina Rubel, explored best practices for creating authentic diversity within law firms to mirror the communities they serve.
“As many of us begin planning for 2021, we are in a position to help our firms make a meaningful impact for improving internal DE&I,” Khoury said. “Companies are more committed now than ever to increasing diversity among their leadership and teams. These companies are our clients — they expect us to look like the communities we serve. But what does that look like?”
The panelists presented the following DE&I tips for law firm marketing and business development teams, which often serve as the gatekeepers for compelling communication channels that influence target audiences.
- Start with active listening and assess your DE&I data and efforts.
- Communicate the measurable steps both internally and externally and identify the ways your firm will refine its plans.
- Speak to your clients openly and often. Ask them what they want and expect regarding DE&I initiatives. Be a resource, not a burden.
- Prioritize accountability and transparency, which are critical to moving toward achieving equality for all and ending social injustice.
- Advocate for systemic change. Be proactive. Speak up. If you are not a member of a diverse community, educate yourself before you speak, ensuring you understand the issues and know how to effectively ask sensitive questions.
- Build DE&I efforts into your pro bono and community engagement efforts.
- Be prepared to answer questions from the media about your firm’s DE&I statistics and how furloughs and layoffs may impact your firm’s numbers.
- Drive DE&I efforts with data.
Panelists highlighted how accurate firm intelligence is indispensable for marketing and business development teams wishing to make the move from reactive to proactive DE&I initiatives during “It’s in Your Data: Revelations That Drive Diversity and Firm Collaboration.”
“Different perspectives bring additional creativity to problems, employee engagement, recruiting, retention, and profitability,” said Jasmine Trillos-Decarie, Chief Client Officer at Latham GPM. “It is a client value-add.”
Jennine Zito, Senior Knowledge Solutions Manager of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, discussed the importance of mining data through cross-department communication and sharing that information through standardized reports. “Firms must define who should own the data and maintain it, as well as how different teams and departments can contribute toward improving that data,” Zito said. She also underscored the importance of questioning data in pursuit of the truth, scrutinizing the source to ensure accuracy.
The legal community is working hard to make strides in diversity, equity and inclusion. The industry still has a long way to go. It is time for each of us to take responsibility, be a voice for change, and take the necessary actions within our own organizations to achieve a more diverse, equitable and inclusive industry for all.
For more DE&I resources, please visit our Diversity, Inclusion, Equity & Anti-Racism Resource Center.