The Benefits of a Bottom-Up Approach to Diversity

Recently, I had the privilege--along with InsideCounsel Publisher Tom Duggan--to moderate a panel of senior-level in-house counsel at the Legal Marketing Association's annual conference this year in Orlando, Fla. The title of the discussion was "Achieving Greater Collaboration: Getting a Win-Win Relationship with In-House Counsel." The audience was a large group of law firm chief marketing officers, managers and other legal marketing professionals.

The three panelists--Jeff Novak, GC of AOL Paid Services; John Lewis Jr., senior managing counsel, compliance, at The Coca-Cola Co. and InsideCounsel Driving Diversity columnist; and Steve Kaplan, GC of Connextions Inc.--immediately launched into a lively discussion, providing valuable insight about what they want from their firms. The conversation covered topics such as collaboration and communication with their outside counsel, the importance of industry expertise by lawyers working on their matters, and ways firms can market their services better.

But one of the most engaging portions of the discussion was about the importance of diversity. During the planning stage for the panel, we asked the in-house counsel if diversity was a requirement when hiring law firms. "Diversity isn't a requirement--that's like saying quality is a requirement," Lewis immediately responded. "It's about having good professional instincts." During the panel discussion, the in-house counsel confirmed this belief.

More than ever, clients are looking to their firms to bring the best ideas and solutions to the table. The most effective way to do this is by organizing truly diverse teams to work directly on their clients' matters. It's about building teams that represent the world we live in.

There is no question about the importance the in-house legal world has placed on diversity. But the needle hasn't moved enough in the past 10 years. Law firms and companies continue to struggle in this area.

In this issue's cover story ("Pipeline Priority"), InsideCounsel takes a look at how several organizations are working to cultivate the next generation of diverse lawyers. They believe in working from the bottom up--looking for diversity at the law school level is already too late. Programs are reaching as far back as high school, even elementary school, to prepare students for a future in law.

Diversity in law may be moving slowly, but thanks to the organizations and individuals who are truly making diversity their mission, the in-house bar will one day be representative of our nation's diverse population.

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