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What Law Firms Can Learn from Corporate Clients

NOTE: The below PDF article was co-authored by Keith Earley and Mary Frances Winters on November 1, 2009.

For over 30 years, corporate diversity, equity & inclusion efforts have often seen greater success than those typically seen in large law firms.

Although there are structural differences between the two—corporation vs. partnerships—success is frequently defined in both cases by the ability to attract and retain talent. 

Even though law firm success is predicated on an attrition model where turnover is explicitly required, retaining key talent is nonetheless vital.

And it can only be achieved through a strategic approach that examines retention policies and practices, firm culture, accountability standards, and more. 

A group of people sitting around a wooden desk.

Education and training in corporate settings exemplify deeper strategic considerations that frame DEI efforts. Ideally, those efforts should include: 

  • A robust, data assessment process ensures a clear understanding of the current state.
  • Integration of DEI into the fundamental business of the organization.
  • A solid and expansive connection to the needs of clients or business partners—domestic and, where relevant, global entities.
  • A commitment to intrapersonal and interpersonal DEI competency, especially by leaders (or partners).
A group of people in suits and ties standing around a desk.

An effective DEI strategy serves the best interests of law firms for whom corporate clients are their lifeblood. It is predictable that clients with strong DEI agendas will expect firms to demonstrate a compatible, more comprehensive commitment as well. 

National law firms are no longer bastions of white male privilege and prestige.

It is increasingly evident that the failure or unwillingness to understand DEI-related change is myopic. Short-term financial success is a prerequisite to law firm survival.

However, this is an unsustainable approach if it is not compatible with the DEI expectations of corporate clients.

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