How Diversity Drives Business Development

by Alycia Sutor /

For a long time, the people most prepared to articulate and advocate for inclusion efforts in law firms have been human resource professionals and diversity officers. But increasingly firms are realizing that diversity plays an important role in their efforts to sell their services and build lasting relationships with clients. In fact, far from being a purely inward-facing function, diversity and inclusion efforts should be a central pillar of your firm’s business development strategy, and your business development team should be staffed accordingly.


The central fact of the landscape in 2018 is that clients are demanding diversity in their representation.


Commitment to diversity and inclusion is an increasingly important value driver. Companies are now asking—and in many cases demanding—that their teams of lawyers be as diverse as the consumers they serve. This reflects both their awareness of the optics and their experience that diverse teams provide more innovative legal solutions. It also indicates firms’ propensity and capability to invite diverse perspectives into routine problem solving.


Simply pointing to general goals or mission statements created by a diversity committee will not be enough to satisfy clients who are getting much more sophisticated about looking at data around hiring, promotion to leadership, and work distribution within the law firms they choose to work with. The numbers don’t lie.


Case in point: ABA Resolution 113, which passed in the summer of 2016, urged law firms and corporations to expand and create opportunities for diverse attorneys. Firms that joined the resolution are required to submit data about their diversity, which clients may then use in their ranking of law firms and in their decision-making and retention decisions. Dozens of corporations have signed on, including Adobe, Capital One, HP, JP Morgan & Chase Co., McDonald’s, Microsoft, PepsiCo, and Prudential. Some corporate legal departments are now threatening consequences to those firms who fail to make gains in diversity. For instance, Hewlett Packard is withholding 10 percent of invoiced fees from firms who do not meet certain diversity requirements. Facebook requires 33 percent diversity for its outside counsel legal teams, and Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. sat down with 75 firms to help them create a formal plan to retain and promote diverse talent.


Additionally, many of your competitors are paying attention and are taking action. The Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule Certification process makes it public and apparent which law firms are making authentic efforts to help women and minorities succeed. These firms pledge that women and minorities will comprise at least 30 percent of all candidates considered for any open leadership or governance roles. Sixty-five firms signed on to the Mansfield Rule 2.0 commitment and 41 firms were recently Mansfield Certified in the first inaugural class. Mansfield will also begin to measure the inclusion of minority-group attorneys in client pitch meetings and develop transparent processes to demonstrate how appointment and election decisions are made. No doubt, while not a panacea, this certification process helps make D&I efforts and results more transparent to those clients who want to see real evidence of progress when deciding which firms to hire.


With real money on the line, your business development and proposal response processes need to include specific language and tools to detail how you will meet diversity requirements, how you’ll continuously monitor and measure your compliance, and how you’ll structure fees and incentives around diversity goals.


Productive interplay between your diversity team and your business development team can create a virtuous cycle: deepening your relationship with forward-thinking clients and the talented attorneys who’ll serve those clients.  Working to make your firm more diverse and to effectively communicate about that important work with clients will have a direct impact on your bottom line. Diversity has always been an important value. Now it’s also a value driver, for both clients and lawyers.