Making the Connection: Successful legal departments must reflect diversity of the nation

Successful legal departments must reflect the diversity of the nation.

Companies, particularly consumer products companies such as Coca-Cola, are only successful to the extent they connect emotionally with consumers. That connection is grounded in an appeal that is familiar.

A personalized experience, whether the foundation for marketing a product or a point of differentiation in a service business, is all about affinity. It is about meeting the consumers where they are. It is about striking resonant themes that speak to their experiences, backgrounds, beliefs, personal challenges and core values. It is about respecting and understanding their "differentness."

It is about leveraging all of the ethnic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic touch points that drive business success.

As lawyers, we are all too familiar with the power of affinity. After all, our profession is the quintessential "contact sport"--an avocation where professional success is informed not just by technical expertise but by relationships--family relationships, community contacts, college and law school contacts, clerkships and the like. As lawyers, our professional success is informed by pedigree, mentors, "rabbis," stakeholders and a host of other external forces that really have no direct connections to the intellectual exercise of lawyering.

Companies, as successful in-house lawyers quickly learn, are relationship-driven organisms. Whatever your company's business, the relationships that form its value chain--whether relationships with customers, distributors, franchisees, employees, contractors, vendors, community contacts or industry contacts--are as critical to driving successful business outcomes as operational excellence, financial stewardship or other critical business functions. As in-house lawyers, we are also concerned with the regulatory and governmental landscape, as well as the judges, media interests, jury pools and political influences that impact the legal risks our internal clients face.

But who are these affinity contacts? Who are the customers, distributors, franchisees, employees, contractors, vendors, community contacts, industry contacts, judges, potential jurors and political figures in your company's or your law department's value chain? What will these affinity contacts look like 10 or 20 years from now?

Fortunately, we need not consult a crystal ball for the answer. Demographers tell us all we need to know about the people who currently populate and will populate our world. We know that today, one in three people in the world live in two countries--China and India. We know that African-American spending power, if aggregated, amounts to the tenth largest economy in the world--larger than the economies of Australia and Mexico. We know that by 2040, Latinos will be the largest demographic group in the U.S. In fact, today, California's Latino buying power exceeds the total buying power (all groups) of 37 of the 50 states. We know American women account for some 85 percent of the purchasing decisions in U.S. households today. We know that Asian-Americans are a fast-growing constituency of millionaires in the U.S.

It seems that the ever-changing diverse business world poses some unique challenges for nondiverse organizations, particularly corporate law departments. Because how can a profession in which minorities and women are underrepresented realistically guide businesses through the legal problems facing a diverse world? How can a homogenous law department or law firm assist a global company in capturing the untold business opportunities provided by a larger, wealthier, better educated, more sophisticated ethnic minority consumer base or business constituency?

It means we must be the catalysts for new affinity paradigms in our companies, in our communities and in our profession. We are uniquely positioned for this important work as ambassadors of our companies and stewards of our profession.

If not us, then who?

John Lewis Jr.

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