By Fruqan Mouzon

Director, Business & Commerical Litigation Department
Gibbons PC

As a Director in a midsize regional law firm, I have noticed that many corporations, including Sara Lee and Wal-Mart, now wield their considerable leverage to encourage firms to adopt policies centered around greater diversity. Some have even pledged to limit business from firms that ignore diversity-based goals. Kenneth Frazier, general counsel of Merck, has stated, “We are in the fortunate position of having many highly capable law firms lining up to work with us… We found that diversity was something that would allow us to make that differentiation.”

The vehicle companies use to encourage diversity in their outside counsel is often the Request for Proposals (RFP). According to the most recent Altman-Weil survey, approximately 25 percent of all legal work is now based on RFPs. When firms respond to RFPs, they are usually, but not always, asked for diversity performance data, such as numbers of minorities and their seniority levels. Other corporate RFPs go further, seeking delineation of the roles diverse attorneys might play in the relevant matter. Still others ask to establish requirements for diverse attorney utilization, with a responding firm allocating specific attorneys from diverse backgrounds to work on company matters, and postengagement, submitting regular reports of hours worked by diverse attorneys.

“Guidance and strategy are necessary for corporations and law firms to apply consistent diversity best practices in the RFP process.”

While it is clear, then, that the importance of diversity has risen in my field, it has done so in an ad hoc manner. Certainly, because so many companies encourage diversity, law firms might immediately see a return on investment by simply having diversity best practices in place. But while some companies merely “encourage” diversity, others insist on it. The lack of uniformity concerning diversity metrics makes it difficult for clients to effectively compare law firm diversity performance in a fair and equitable manner. This highlights the need for uniform diversity standards.

Guidance and strategy are necessary for corporations and law firms to apply consistent diversity best practices in the RFP process. The organized bars could assist by promulgating standards for diversity metrics in the RFP process to facilitate more equitable comparison and evaluation of law firms. They could, for example, provide: sample RFP language clearly stating the intent to utilize firms with histories of hiring, retaining, and promoting minority attorneys; model diversity questions on performance metrics covering important issues like relative attrition rates for minority and female attorneys; and guidelines for companies to establish goals for specific participation by minority firms in addition to diverse attorneys in majority firms, and for joint ventures among minority firms and other law firms.

It is only through coordinated, strategic diversity plan implementation and goal-setting that corporations and their outside counsel can appreciate the full return on investment that a diverse workforce offers.

Fruqan Mouzon is a Director at Gibbons P.C., an Am Law 200 firm with 230 attorneys and five offices in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. He is an avid and capable litigator, having participated on all levels of trial practice, including significant state and federal appellate experience.