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WER June 2020 Feature 2
Volume LXX, Issue IV

Published June 11, 2020

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Survey Reporting and Collaboration: Moving from Checking a Box to Making a Difference

By: Daniel Taylor

Daniel focuses on transforming transactional moments into opportunities to build relationships. As Faegre Drinker’s Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator, he leads the charge to expand diverse teams and deepen client/firm relationships through diversity, inclusion and equity efforts.


                Daniel Taylor             

Clients often use a survey process to benchmark firms’ diversity and inclusion (D&I) performance and to report on shared progress.  On its face, however, the survey process is transactional in nature—questions asked and questions answered, form provided and form submitted, deadline stated and deadline met.

This article addresses how can surveys about D&I can be used to achieve their goals and to deepen relationships and collaboration between clients and firms. 

For decades, the legal profession has diligently been collecting aggregate data on firm demographics.  Past practices, however, lacked a standardized approach and revolved around independent, idiosyncratic, client-specific surveys. As a result, various data sets were created and findings existed as independent, compartmentalized units.  This approach limits the ability of firms and clients to integrate findings and conduct comparative analysis and it short-circuits how, together, clients and firms define progress and collaborate on next steps.

As a member of the survey response team at Faegre Drinker, I am the “first stop” when an incoming client survey arrives.  While there are several types of diversity surveys that firms are required to complete, this article features three types of surveys, describes an outline of the processes for each, and highlights how clients and firms can better leverage the survey process as a crucial point of collaboration, moving beyond transactional approach and into a collaborative space. 

Quarterly/Monthly Ongoing Reporting

Quarterly or monthly reports are scheduled surveys that are typically used by clients to monitor a firm’s aggregate diversity metrics over a period of time with the intent of capturing “real-time” data. (In contrast, annual data provides a “look-back” on the previous year).  Depending on the depth of the reporting, the report may reflect the contribution of hours/fees by demographic in the aggregate or the makeup of a client service team demographic in the aggregate.

How to Better Leverage: Proactive, regular reporting provides relevance and immediacy that serves as natural connection points between clients and firm. These reports are best used as a blueprint to discuss and review progress together.  More robust reporting, such as surveys that inquire about aggregate demographics by roles of client service teams ( e.g., who was Transactional Lead? the Deposition Lead?) may create even more valuable opportunities to track professional growth through project management. Such demographic surveys also define progress and contributions beyond an analysis of fees/hours. Clients are uniquely positioned to influence and nudge firms to adopt new metrics that would better track the growth of their attorneys.

When representatives from clients and firms meet regularly to review progress and discuss survey results, it enhances a shared accountability. Both parties renew commitments, identify actions, and design collaborative efforts with intentionality. The net effect is a cycle of progress which is evident in future survey results. 

Client Specific Surveys

Clients often create unique surveys according to their corporate culture. These surveys may include a specific slate of questions related to the client’s Employee Resource Group structure.  If the surveys are consistent each year, data reported by firms has continuity year-over-year. 

How to Better Leverage: Clients who develop their own surveys often have specific expectations about what firms should report.  Occasionally, clients ask for data which is valuable to them but not tracked by firms.  For example, a law firm may track Equal Employment Opportunity classifications but not demographic categories – e.g., Veteran status, Middle Eastern North African (MENA) or Gender Non-Binary – despite the importance of a demographic category to a particular client’s culture.

If clients seek data that is not currently tracked by a firm, the firm and the client should consider bringing together the D&I teams and matter leadership from both organizations to discuss why demographic data is not currently being tracked and to identify solutions.  Clients are often a powerful force to emphasize the importance of tracking a new category.

American Bar Association (ABA) Model Diversity Survey/National/Local Industry Surveys

The American Bar Association’s Goal III seeks to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the legal profession.  Through this effort, and in conjunction with the passing of Resolution 113 in August 2016, the ABA instituted the Model Diversity Survey.  The ABA updates the survey annually—sometimes providing new demographic categories—reflecting the most up-to-date approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Created under the leadership of ABA President Paulette Brown, the ABA Model Diversity Survey is both visionary and leading-edge. It is widely used throughout the profession and has garnered the reputation as the go-to survey, establishing its place at the top of the client survey list.  D&I thought leadership, such as the Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals (ALFDP), participate in the document’s evolution each year, so it is vetted by those who work in the trenches and are the most knowledgeable.  A survey response team annually updates the survey with new information, leading to a robust multi-year picture of firm demographics.  Firms submit a copy of firmwide aggregate data to the ABA.  Upon solicitation by clients, firms submit both the firmwide aggregate data as well as a client-specific portion directly to the requesting client.

How to Better Leverage: Upon receipt, clients should engage firms on the results of the ‘client-specific portion’ of the survey as it is an important annual benchmark for analyzing trends, assessing strengths and weaknesses, outlining opportunities, and committing to next steps.

Conclusion

The legal profession is increasingly using surveys and data collection to benchmark its progress in improving diversity. When clients and firms collaborate throughout the survey process, new opportunities to engage in shared values surface. This process strengthens relationships and builds new capacity to identify actions that propel progress. In this regard, the survey process—gathering data, submitting responses, analyzing results, meeting to review progress, assessing next steps, and designing an action plan—can be converted from a transaction or a form into being a tangible tool that increases the thoughtfulness required to advance diversity and equity in the profession.

 

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