Bridging Client Relationship Management and DEI
By Toni Wells
April 16, 2021 | 6 minutes
Communications Written and Oral Communication Skills Reputation Management Message and Strategy Planning Content Type Article Additional Options Content Level: Essential Firm Size: Small Firm Size: Medium Firm Size: Large
Many corporate legal departments have sought to improve lagging legal industry diversity by changing outside counsel guidelines. So, what does that mean for law firms that desire to demonstrate their commitment to clients and how can we as legal marketing professionals support those efforts? The good news is that legal marketers are already at the forefront of client relationship management, so it is only natural that we use our skills to bridge the effort to progress DEI with building and deepening client relationships.
Here are a few tips to help execute a client-facing and client-inclusive strategy around DEI:
The marketing and business development team is often the most in-the-know group of any of the law firm business functions, as our roles are deeply embedded across firm leadership and practice groups. As a result, we often possess a deep understanding of priority areas of focus and the latest practice trends, in order to effectively market and drive business strategy.
Here is how we can bridge DEI:
- Ensure that your firm is communicating all of its current DEI efforts in areas of priority through frontline communications — firm collateral, website content and proposal/RFP materials.
- Communication extends beyond what you are doing currently to also include what you hope to do in the future. As an industry, we have a lot of work to do on the DEI front — no one has perfected this. Communicating our goals and what we plan to do to improve diversity initiatives is just as important as boasting about current efforts.
- Highlight the difference-making programs and initiatives in your firm by sharing the stories of individuals who are thriving as a result.
As we are often the frontline drivers in preparing proposal responses, we can be a voice for diversity in the composition of teams we propose. Beyond that, we can be at the forefront of understanding the client’s call for diversity. We should know if our client is a signatory on a DEI call to action, what that means specifically to them and how our firms are equipped to answer the call — or at least put a process in place that will promote steps in the right direction.
We can be the drivers of meaningful change by starting with the following:
- Review all panel representations (with particular emphasis on DEI). For new opportunities, work with your DEI team to identify a qualified diverse team to propose. For existing work, engage relationship partners and/or practice management to ensure you are meeting client expectations and that client teams continue to maintain or grow in diversity. In areas where you simply cannot meet diversity requirements with your internal teams, consider looking to diverse firms to partner together and create diverse teams.
- Proactively ensure that your firm’s diverse talent is aware of opportunities that position them for sponsorship and growth. Conference opportunities, webinar panels and sponsorship tables that we’ll need to fill again in the future are opportunities that can position someone to make a meaningful connection. Far too often, we fall into the trap of tapping the folks that we know, like and feel akin to because they look like us, think like us, come from similar background, etc. It is critical to “spread the love” around.
Partner With Clients
I overwhelmingly hear from in-house counsel that they want to work with their outside counsel to improve DEI.
“Beyond understanding what is happening at the firm broadly [in respect to DEI], I want to understand who is representing me on my matters,” said Rishi Varma, general counsel of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). He added that “visibility into the pipeline of diverse firm talent is important. I want to position diverse outside counsel so that they gain higher visibility work and potentially succeed to lead the relationship.”
As clients urge their outside counsel to improve their DEI efforts, they are also working on improving their own internal DEI. Varma was firm that “DEI isn’t one-sided.” He needs his own team to understand why it is important and how efforts must be sustained over time.
Explore current programs that engage clients in DEI or look for new ways to engage clients in your DEI programs. This can serve as a gateway to more meaningful conversations with your clients
A comprehensive client DEI strategy identifies opportunities to partner with clients across areas such as recruiting, development and advancement. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Explore current programs that engage clients in DEI or look for new ways to engage clients in your DEI programs. This can serve as a gateway to more meaningful conversations with your clients, ultimately deepening relationships.
- Review all DEI-related sponsorships with a client nexus. This is an opportunity to deepen your understanding of the client’s culture and values, how that manifests in their DEI goals and how a particular sponsorship opportunity supports those efforts. This can lead to deeper conversation around how your goals can align.
Finally, we must be transparent with our clients about our progress, even if we miss the mark. This might be the most significant thing we can do.
“Truly understanding where outside counsel is with DEI begins with data as a baseline,” said Varma. Lora Blum, general counsel of SurveyMonkey, would like firms to be more open about demographics and what their goals are at every level. “I would be very excited to see law firms publicly disclose what their employees (associates and staff) and ownership (partners) look like, and what they aspire for those populations to look like — perhaps one-year and multi-year goals,” she said.
Although legal marketers aren’t at the frontline of gathering and reporting data, we often request it for the purpose of proposal submissions and other areas of our work. Here’s how we can support the effort to report data to clients:
- Understand the data that is reported by your firm and how it is captured and measured. Think about ways within your areas of responsibility that you can personally drive change, which can have a direct effect on metrics where the firm is deficient.
- Going back to those panel representations with a DEI mandate, marketers should be proactive in working with relationship partners and/or practice management to ensure the firm is meeting and/or exceeding client expectations, which also makes for a great touch points in the client relationship.
I have been encouraged to see the level of focus and support surrounding issues of DEI in the legal industry and I sincerely hope that the spotlight continues to shine on these issues. As legal marketers, we are uniquely positioned to apply a DEI lens to the work we do every day. I encourage all who are reading this article to examine what that looks like for them, because everyone has a part in making progress.