To maintain and increase business, client and market share, most law firms would like to have and present stronger diversity statistics. The fact remains that law is the least diverse profession in the United States, and although most law firms make concerted diversity efforts, there is more to be done. One way to increase law firms’ diversity statistics, which few law firms have adopted, is to create a Supplier Diversity Program (SDP).
What is an SDP? It’s an organized sourcing method used by public companies and entities in the procurement process to allow diverse suppliers equal access to purchasing opportunities. Such suppliers need to be certified by bona fide entities and consist of businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, disabled individuals, members of the LGBT community, and other historically underutilized groups that may be affected by unconscious bias in purchasing decisions. These suppliers are often referred to as MWBEs, which stands for qualified minority and women-owned business enterprises.
All publicly held companies, institutions and entities have had SDPs for years, which cover all procurement, including the selection and hiring of outside law firms and other outside legal services. Yet, as private companies and for various reasons, the majority of law firms have not followed suit. A few law firms (but not many) now have and promote SDPs, including Baker Botts; Faegre Baker Daniels; Gibbons, Shearman & Sterling; Warner Norcross & Judd; Weil Gotshal; and a very few others.
Instead, the vast majority of law firms serving or wanting to serve public companies and entities have made a commitment to diversity but focus mainly on increasing their internal workplace diversity – i.e., the number of diverse lawyers the firm employs. To support the career development of firm lawyers, many firms also have diverse inclusion and affinity groups operating within. Yet very few law firms have or report SDPs and/or diversity in pro bono efforts. The fact is, most law firms’ diversity programs consist mainly of efforts to recruit, develop and retain diverse lawyers and employees while promoting themselves as inclusive, racism- and bias-free workplaces.
Law firms with SDPs are able to report stronger diversity statistics to clients and prospective clients when proposing/pitching new business. They report the diversity of their internal workforce, plus their use of diverse vendors and suppliers, i.e., MWBEs, such as court reporters, experts, consultants, etc.
The benefits of creating and having a law firm SDP include: increasing the firm’s level of commitment to diversity and inclusion, both internally and externally; increasing the firm’s share of an approximately $1.5B (and growing) market for outside legal services; increasing the firm’s diversity statistics and scorecard when reporting to clients, pitching new business and recruiting; and helping the firm stand out from competitors in proposals, RFP responses, pitches and the market.
Most Common Diversity Statistics and Information That Law Firms Track and Report to Clients
1. Firm ownership. If a firm or company is at least 51% MWBE-owned, is certified as such by a bona fide entity, and is qualified, the firm becomes eligible for outside legal work and/or may get special considerations.
2. Firm demographics/workforce. For non-MWBE-owned law firms, proposing and tracking minority/diverse lawyers and personnel who work on clients’ matters are reported, including percentages by firm, practice area and/or office.
3. Internal diversity training, mentoring, internal groups and all diversity development programs and support.
Uncommon Diversity Statistics and Information That Law Firms Track and Report to Clients
1. Use of diverse outside vendors/suppliers. Does your law firm have an SDP? Would it benefit from one?
2. Diverse pro bono cases and matters. Does your law firm track diversity in pro bono work and consider diversity when selecting pro bono cases/matters? If not, should it?
If your law firm is considering adopting an SDP to augment workplace diversity efforts, here are some key steps:
1. Get leadership to create a business policy and consider staffing and mechanics.
2. Create a Supplier Diversity development plan, including process, procedures, tracking and reporting.
3. Conduct regular promotion and education internally and externally.
4. Identify opportunities. Review results and update the program at least annually.
Some resources the author researched to write this article:
ABA Resolution 113 – Adopted September 2016 - Promote Diversity in the Legal Profession
“$1 Billion and Counting” – by Sherrie Boutwell, July 16, 2016, ABA Law Practice Today
“GCs Urged To Show Law Firms A Tough Hand On Diversity,” by Melissa Maleske, May 2, 2016, Law360
“Law is the least diverse profession in the nation. And lawyers aren’t doing enough to change that – May 27, 2015, Washington Post
“Cross-examination: Supplier Diversity in the Legal Procurement Process – August 12, 2016, New Jersey Law Journal
“Gibbons P.C.: Raising the Bar With Metrics That Matter – Diversity Journal
ABA Model Rule 8.4 Revised Resolution - Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility
National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) – www.namwolf.org
NAMWOLF’s Inclusion Initiative – http://www.namwolf.org/page/IncInMembers/Inclusion-Initiative.htm
National Minority Supplier Development Council – www.nmsdc.org
National Women Business Owners Corporation – www.nwboc.org
National Veteran-Owned Business Association – www.navoba.com
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