Diversity and inclusion are growing in importance for the UK legal profession as firms expand and seek to penetrate the global marketplace. An ability to connect with clients and see things from a diverse cultural and business perspective now requires lawyers to step up a gear within the diversity field if they wish to win, retain and extract business from clients.
For example, numerous firms aspire to the template laid down by HSBC's marketing campaign as a global bank with an ability to connect locally. It is no longer simply enough to merge and buy presences in Europe, the Middle East and Asia; the smart law firms are now leveraging off the diversity in those hubs to penetrate a wider range of clients, particularly the booming markets in China and Russia.
But how are law firms using the diversity card to further ingratiate them with their clients? If we look at corporate America as an example, there is a trend for firms to help their clients manage their diversity issues.
But first firms must analyse diversity statistics and issues within their own organisations, such as progression to partnership, billable hours by ethnicity and gender/flexible working splits. By doing this, and reporting such information to clients and for specific matters, they can show that they are well progressed down the diversity road and are therefore able to guide and advise a client on establishing a diversity policy and strategy of their own.
This process goes a long way to showing how committed a law firm is to the subject.
Another popular method of aligning diversity to business development is through network groups. Not only are these excellent recruitment and retention tools, they can also be utilised to forge closer links with clients.
Current established groups include Weil Gotshal & Manges' Women@Weil group and Berwin Leighton Paisner's (BLP) Adelaide Group. The objective of both groups is that, given that an increasing number of women occupy senior executive positions within companies and the professions, many of them welcome the opportunity to meet with their peers and exchange views and ideas on issues affecting women in business.
For example, Women@Weil aims to embrace the talents and energy of women across the firm, focusing on issues as diverse as mentoring and networking, recruiting and retention, pro bono initiatives, business development and client outreach.
In recent months other law firms in the UK have also entered this arena. Such network groups are not all devoted to 'women's issues' either. They are beginning to cover a wide range of diversity, such as working parents, multiculturalism, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues and flexible working.
The current diversity challenges for the legal sector are multifaceted. Clients are increasingly driving this forward, and firms have no option but to respond to their demands and illustrate how actively they have embraced diversity.