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ABA Resolution 113: Why Your Law Firm Needs to Diversify
Monday, June 19, 2017

“We need language that will help us communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion.” That comment set the tone for a lively town hall discussion that brought together legal marketers determined to help their law firms uphold ABA Resolution 113.

“The Business Case for Diversity in Legal Services” was the title of a 2017 LMA Annual Conference session that encouraged the development of creative ideas in support of Resolution 113’s call for providers of legal services “…to expand and create opportunities at all levels of responsibility for diverse attorneys, and … assist in the facilitation of opportunities for diverse attorneys, and to direct a greater percentage of the legal services they purchase, both currently and in the future, to diverse attorneys.”

The session, which I moderated, was led by panelists José E. V. Cunningham, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Nixon Peabody LLP; Kenneth O.C. Imo, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; and Megan M. McKeon, Practice Manager at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP. The discussion encouraged legal marketers to find ways to help their firms develop new pathways into the legal profession for the many talented, diverse legal professionals.

Law Firm Diversity Statistics

To fully understand the purpose of ABA Resolution 113, we need to first examine the state of diversity in the legal profession.

The ABA report, “A Current Glance at Women in the Law,” offers some eye-opening facts about women in the profession:

  • Women currently make up 36 percent of the legal profession. That’s only a 6 percent increase over the last decade. (Women make up a little over 50 percent of the U.S. population.)

  • In private practice, women make up less than 22 percent of partners. That’s only a 4.2 percent increase over 10 years. Numbers for associates and summer associates have remained stagnant over the last 10 years.

  • Interestingly, and something that should be of concern to law firms, the growth rate of women as general counsels in Fortune 500 companies continues to grow over the last decade, reflecting that the business world is ahead of the legal world in terms of staffing female attorneys. That said, women as Fortune 500 GCs still only represent 24.8 percent of the profession.

  • Despite the gender disparity in law firms, law schools are graduating women and men at nearly equal rates. In fact, 47.3 percent of J.D.s awarded these days are to women, a statistic that has stayed consistent for the past 10 years.

The American Lawyer publishes an annual “diversity scorecard that surveys the profession and ranks law firms based on its percentage of minority counsel. Some recent statistics include:

  • The percentage of minorities who earn J.D.s in the context of all J.D.s awarded has grown steadily over the years. For the academic year of 2012/2013, minorities made up 25.5 percent of all J.D.s awarded.

  • Minority lawyers only make up 15 percent of Big Law.

  • Of all employed lawyers, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, the ethnic breakdown is African-American, 4.6 percent; Asian,4.8 percent; and Latino/Hispanic, 5.1 percent.

As you can see, there is a significant disconnect between the overall population of the U.S. and the minority and gender breakdown in the legal industry. Furthermore, and perhaps more troubling, is the fact that the percentage of J.D.s awarded to women and minorities does not align with the number of female and minority attorneys employed at law firms. That means while there’s certainly a large pool of women and minority lawyers, many law firms are not hiring them.

The Business Case

The impact of ABA Resolution 113 on the legal profession has been increasingly discussed and addressed in the ranks of lawyers themselves. The business case for legal services providers is being advanced by major corporations, including eBay, United Airlines, PepsiCo, American Express, CBS Corporation, McDonald’s and many others who have pledged to give their legal work to more diverse law firms. The challenge is to find ways to increase minority representation among legal service providers who recognize that, in addition to the business case, diversity and inclusion are central to a law firm’s ability to innovate; attract and retain the best talent; foster productive teams; and engage diverse internal and external clients.

Legal marketers are also examining their role in supporting ABA Resolution 113. It is generally felt that the current makeup of the legal marketing profession did not develop through any purposeful means or method of exclusion; instead, the opportunities have been largely invisible to developing talented diverse professionals and have not been brought to their attention, whether they are in other marketing positions or are current students preparing for careers.

Participants in the LMA Annual Conference session suggested pioneering a more proactive approach to attract, recruit, encourage, mentor and promote diverse legal marketing professionals. Among the ideas was to create a team of LMA representatives, including representatives of all ethnic groups, that would be assigned and encouraged to promote the legal marketing profession to classes, clubs and assemblies at racially diverse universities and colleges where potential talent could be found. These “emissaries” could target classes in marketing, communications, Big Data and other technology topics, public relations, and communications, as well as general business classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

There was also a call to create programming through LMA at both the local and regional levels, as well as the national level, to focus on issues related to increasing diversity. The programming would include creating guidelines, along with enthusiastically seeking existing diverse marketing professionals from inside and outside the legal field to include as speakers in individual group and panel sessions.

Moving Toward Diversity

A number of interested legal marketing professionals plan to confer and convene with other parties interested in developing more diversity in the profession. Law Firm Media Professionals (LFMP) is already involved, and outreach is planned to the Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals (ALFDP), which was established in January 2006 and has maintained an interest in developing diversity in both the legal and staff ranks. Chief diversity officers at any and all law firms are also natural allies. The plan is to engage the offices, personnel and capabilities of these other organizations (and perhaps others to follow) to make the efforts truly industrywide.

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