Why law firm CMOs are taking on more diversity responsibilities

In a recent 2022 State of DEI Content Report from strategic communications firm Greentarget and consulting firm Zeughauser Group, company executives cited DE&I as second to cybersecurity on their list of priorities for the professional services firms they hire, while companies’ internal general counsel cited it as their top priority.

“Chief executives, chief operating officers and chief legal officers, they have what we’re uncovering in our research are real growing needs for guidance on a range of diversity, equity and inclusion-related issues,” Greentarget President and Founding Partner John Corey said.

Corey said C-suite executives are looking for guidance on, for example, how to recruit and retain diverse talent, when and how to comment on social causes, how to identify DE&I as a strategic priority within their companies, and who needs to be involved in that process, and how to set an inclusive strategy for the entire organization.

Chief marketers within law firms have been gaining more prominence overall since 2020. Legal-focused media company ALM wrote chief marketing officers are increasingly crossing into areas that have been the sole responsibilities of partners, including services related to the delivery of legal services and direct client relationship management. (In some cases, these chief marketers started as attorneys but many are coming up through traditional marketing and communications backgrounds.)

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Mary K. Young, partner at Zeughauser Group and former chief marketer for law firm Howrey and ex-business director for Kraft Foods, said chief marketers are increasingly tasked with ensuring companies get a diverse team of attorneys, that their diverse lawyers are being promoted in the media and retained in-house, that law firms’ internal DE&I efforts are being promoted to attract new clients and that companies are getting the proper legal advice surrounding their own DE&I efforts.

“In terms of specifics, in some cases, lawyers are advising [companies] on what they can and can’t do around trying to increase the diversity of their workforce; what kind of questions [they] can ask; how to manage diverse talent,” Young said. “In addition to that, there’s a lot of concern around disclosure. There’s a lot of information that they have to provide, especially if they’re a public company. They have to disclose information to their shareholders about their diversity efforts and their numbers. They need guidance on how to do that.”

Chief marketers partner with their DE&I leads to assess how to best tackle these needs for clients.

“You’ve got to have a very strong collaboration between marketing and the DE&I folks,” Young said.