Having been around legal marketing for more than a decade now, I have watched how our firms have tackled diversity and women’s initiatives. The Association of Corporate Counsel is highly vocal on these initiatives, and clients are driving diversity initiatives via the RFP process.

Microsoft made waves last July when it announced the launch of a legal department program that would pay out bonuses for outside counsel diversity, to both the firms and the senior in-house attorneys who work with them. The law firms can nab a 2 percent bonus for showing measurable results in diversity levels—either by increasing the hours worked by minority lawyers on Microsoft matters or by increasing the number of total U.S.-based diverse counsel within the firm. On the in-house side, 5 percent of the bonus that goes to senior Microsoft lawyers is contingent upon whether at least three-quarters of the firms that opted for the first bonus option meet their goal. The in-house component recognizes that matter staffing and management is often jointly handled by outside and inside lawyers.

Whatever your personal opinions are in regards to these types of initiatives, lawsuits like these, “Ex-Associate Claims Mayer Brown Used Her as ‘Marketing Tool,” make it more difficult for firm’s to actively promote diversity.

An African-American former associate at Mayer Brown’s office in Charlotte, N.C., has filed a discrimination suit that claims the law firm used her as a “marketing tool” before firing her in 2008.

Former associate Venus Yvette Springs, a magna cum laude graduate of Duke Law School, alleges that when she was hired in 2007 there were only two other African-Americans at the firm’s Charlotte office and no others in the real estate practice group where she worked. Above the Law was the first to post news of the lawsuit (PDF posted by Above the Law).

“Springs was hired, in whole or in part, because the Charlotte office needed to increase its number of African-American attorneys,” the suit says. “Upon information and belief, firm documents refer to the hiring of an African-American as a ‘marketing tool.’ Springs was used as a marketing tool, asked to attend on behalf of Mayer Brown bar and other functions where diversity would be perceived as a positive. As discussed below, the need for diversity gave way to the firm’s underlying discriminatory culture and practices.”

So, what’s a law firm to do? Not hire a magna cum laude graduate from a well-regarded law school? Bad law firm. What were you thinking? Sending an African-American to attend a program on behalf of the firm? For shame.

I hate to break the news to anyone reading this: EVERY lawyer in the firm is a potential “marketing tool” for the marketing department.

You write well? I’m making you editor of the blog. Tool.

You speak well? You are off to that conference. Tool.

You present well? You are representing the firm at the exhibit hall table at the industry conference. Tool.

You social?? I’m sending you to any and every cocktail party, table of ten I need to fill. Tool.

Grow up. We’re all tools of the firm because we are part of the firm’s success or lack thereof (yes, even I am a tool of the firm). We all have a role to play. Those who embrace these roles will find success within the firm’s political structure, and through their business development efforts. Those who reject it … we’ll, good luck finding a new job once your lawsuit hits the Internet.