An open letter to law firms penned by 170 general counsel and corporate legal officers from companies across the U.S. warns law firms whose record of partnership promotions fails to reflect the diversity of the general population that they may face dire consequences from a number of leading corporations.

While applauding those firms that do “hire, retain and promote to partnership outstanding and highly accomplished lawyers who are diverse in race, color, age, gender, gender orientation, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, and without regard for disabilities,” the signatories note that “partnership classes remain largely male and largely white.

“[T]he reality is,” they write, “that you must consciously and personally invest in diversity and inclusion and interview, hire, mentor, support, sponsor, and promote talented attorneys who don’t always look like you or share your background.”

Their message to law firms that don’t?

“We, as a group, will direct our substantial outside counsel spend [estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars] to those law firms that manifest results with respect to diversity and inclusion, in addition to providing the highest degree of quality representation. We sincerely hope that you and your firm will be among those that demonstrate this commitment.”

I believe that law firms ignore this letter to their peril.

My recommendations:

1) Review the list of 170 to see if you have clients (or former clients, or prospective clients) on that list.

2)  If the answer to #1 is “yes,” consider communicating now.  (You could delay until you were 100% confident in a perfect communication, but it will be ignored because your delay will have lost you virtually all your credibility.)

3) Consider what elements to include in your communication. Here are some thoughts, to get your thinking started:

  • Prove you heard the message.
  • Note that they are asking for “results with respect to diversity and inclusion,” not “effort.”
  • Show your diversity status and/or action plan.
  • Avoid defensive self congratulating puffery and instead either confirm you have stellar diversity numbers and/or that you have a plan in place to get/maintain them.
  • Congratulate them on their courage to take a stand and communicate it so clearly.
  • Customize your message based on your relationship.

4) Don’t be afraid to use your positive diversity number as part of your business development strategy to attract clients or grow your client base.  These GCs just made that “fair ball.”

Do not fake this. If you don’t care about diversity, or your firm makes this a political issue on which it becomes impossible to make headway, stay silent.