“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” While true, organizations should carefully consider which ones will de facto preserve the company’s strengths throughout the economic crisis we are now facing. General Counsel can play a significant role in maintaining a strong and diverse corporate environment by selecting outside counsel with a solid Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) program.

More and more, solid D&I efforts are a strong selection criterion for GCs. Law firms pitching for work are often required to demonstrate their initiatives in creating and sustaining a diverse work environment where all employees feel respected for who they are, regardless of gender, age, cultural or ethnic background, ability, family situation, and/or other characteristics. Only then will these firms be considered for the assignment. Powerful corporates may even go a step further. A well-known example is HP withholding up to 10% of costs invoiced by law firms if they do not meet minimum diversity requirements.

For many organizations – including law firms – the Covid-19 lockdown and the impending economic downturn have led to management taking strong measures in order to be able to weather the storm. Many are turning their focus to their core/client business, which brings in the money, and freezing the activities that don’t. D&I often falls into that second category and doesn’t make the cut.

D&I as a business attitude

However, focusing only on preventing revenue loss may not be the smartest move. In fact, there are strong business imperatives to keep investment in D&I high. An organization equipped to take care of its employees, even in difficult economic times, will reap valuable rewards as its people realize that their employer continues to invest in them despite challenging circumstances. Talent retention will be a crucial element in successfully navigating the crisis.

In addition, the downturn calls for creativity, innovation, forward thinking and the ability to connect effectively with clients and networks. It takes a motivated and engaged workforce to deliver this important edge. Employees who feel respected and valued bring their best selves to the table, leading to brilliant ideas, solutions and products. In the quest for survival that is up ahead, diverse and inclusive organizations hold the cards for success.

A solid D&I program, therefore, is an indicator of an organization’s long-term strength.

Choose wisely

To prevent compromising the resilience D&I has brought corporations and law firms over the past years, it is important that GCs continue to compare and contrast law firms’ diversity efforts. Who’s paying attention to their people during both good and bad times? Hire firms who prioritize it. When doing so, I suggest to take into account that a medium sized firm or local office cannot match the amount of attention and budget devoted to D&I by large international firms. It is the intention that counts. The mindset. The positive attitude to what their most important asset – the people – need, is what makes law firms good diverse and inclusive employers.

In short: continuing to pay close attention to D&I during the Covid-19 recession makes business sense; it is a good indicator of smart management and the long-term health of the firm. An added bonus is its ripple effect, incentivizing competing law firms to keep up their D&I and creating a more diverse and innovative legal landscape. Let’s not allow a virus to get in the way of that!


About the author:

Mickey van Helden | Baker McKenzie

Mickey van Helden is the D&I Program Lead at Baker McKenzie Amsterdam. She has worked in D&I since 2017. She has led the set-up, implementation and ongoing activities and events of Baker McKenzie Amsterdam’s Diversity & Inclusion program. She is a strong proponent of a data driven approach and continuous improvement and frequently participates in conferences on D&I related topics.