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In case you’ve ever been worried about being different from everyone else in your law firm or company, I’ll encourage you to follow Oscar Wilde’s advice.  You really can’t be anyone but yourself, and isn’t this the point of having diversity and inclusion initiatives?  Isn’t this also the point about business development?  Clients hire you because they trust you, and they know when you’re not being true to yourself.  I was talking to a former female client recently who said she experienced too much stress during her first few years of practice because she was trying to be like the men in her firm.  She said, “Once I stopped trying to be someone else, my clients told me how much they liked working with me, compared to other lawyers.”

Several years ago, I wrote a blawg about “The Perfect Lawyer.”  I had a coaching client who was reluctant to engage in business development until she became that person.  When I asked about her definition of perfection, she said it was “a tall white guy in a suit.”  Given that she was a height-challenged Hispanic woman, the chances were pretty slim that she was going to make that transformation.  More importantly, she had so much more to offer just by being herself.  She attracted clients who appreciated her life experiences and her perspective.  Clients have never asked her to become someone else.

At the CMCP event on July 13, many of the attendees were associates who are learning how to navigate the politics of their firms.  During the panel discussion, some of them talked about their employment interviews and how they evaluated a firm’s stated commitment to diversity versus the reality they observed.  It should not be a surprise that they chose firms that had diverse partners who shared their own success stories, and assured the associates that they would have a path to partnership.

How Being Yourself Contributes to Your Firm

Maybe you think it would be risky to express yourself fully.  Unless you are in a supportive environment, it may seem safer to keep hidden any aspects of your personality or experience that seem different from the perceived cultural norm.  But it is exactly those differences that contribute to a more effective workplace.

We know that all law firms have intelligent lawyers, but we may not fully recognize the contribution that diverse lawyers can make.  In the book, “The Difference:  How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies,” author Scott Page says:

“Diverse thinkers (defined as those with different educational backgrounds, experience levels, and /or racial, gender, and ethnic identities) are markedly better at solving problems than teams selected for their intellectual ability.  The diverse team’s collective intelligence, he found, is generally significantly greater than a team whose individual members are uniformly “smart”.

There is no question that the women and diverse lawyers I’ve met and worked with are incredibly smart.  When they are truly included in teams who can listen to them, they bring fresh perspectives and more creative solutions.  From a business development perspective, they are connected to different, and more diverse, networks that allow them to attract clients that a firm wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

I haven’t seen more recent figures, but a study of the AmLaw 200 firms in 2009 showed that:

“A firm ranked in the top quarter of the diversity rankings will generate more than $100,000 of additional profit per partner than a peer firm of the same size in the same city, with the same hours and leverage but a diversity ranking in the bottom quarter of firms.”

Imagine how much difference it would make to have significantly more diversity in that top quarter of the rankings.

Actions to Take
As you consider your individual business development efforts, I’ll encourage you to express yourself in the following ways:

  • Take advantage of being a member of CMCP.  Every event offers helpful career advice, as well as introductions to amazing lawyers.
  • Regularly update your bio and your LinkedIn profile to include your personal interests and your accomplishments.
  • Practice talking about your interests at networking events.
  • Join an association that is meaningful to you, where you can connect with people who share your interests.