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At ABA Meeting, Renewed Call for Diversity Among GCs

Aug. 8, 2016, 2:05 PM

The American Bar Association is getting serious about calls for greater diversity.

At its annual meeting in San Francisco, the ABA’s House of Delegates will vote on Monday on Resolution 113, which calls on clients to direct a greater percentage of the legal services they purchase to diverse attorneys.

In addition, the ABA President’s Diversity and Inclusion 360 Commission has released a six-page, 15-question voluntary “Model Diversity Survey” that asks firms about their demographic profile across equity partners, non-equity partners and all other levels, and looks at leadership positions and committee compositions. The American Bar Foundation plans on collecting and aggregating the data submitted.

On Saturday, three Fortune 500 GCs called on their outside counsel to closely scrutinize law firms’ diversity demographics and inclusion policies.

Kim Rivera, a Latina woman who is chief legal officer and general counsel for HP Inc., said she believes the survey is an invaluable tool for creating a culture of greater transparency.

Rivera said that HP has made it an explicit goal to give work to minority and women-owned law firms.

“Our largest portfolio spent is on intellectual property and 42 percent of our outside counsel is with minority and women-owned firms,” she said at a panel entitled “Fortune 500 General Counsel Sharing the 3Cs of Diversity and Inclusion.”

Rivera said that it is important that corporate counsels use the survey to annually assess outside counsel’s progress and to have “tough conversations” with firms that are lagging on diversity metrics.

“I hope people will have the courage to take on what it means to fire a firm,” she said. “Which means you have a lot of upset lawyers and clients in your own business who say, ‘but wait a minute, we have had a relationship for a long, long time and this is very painful and now we have to start over…' You have to courage to say we are going to start over.”

Karen Roberts, executive vice president and general counsel of Wal-Mart Stores, explained that in 2005, Walmart began to ask firms to share their slate of relationship partners and to ensure that at least one women and one attorney of color were on the slate.

Roberts said, as a result of that request, Walmart shifted $60 million dollars and turned over 40 relationship partners. At that time, she was GC of the company’s Real Estate Division. One law firm accused the company of trying to tell the firm how to run its business, Roberts said.

She said, “I’m not telling you how to run your business, I’m telling you as consumer of your services this is my expectation and if you are not willing to meet it, we are not going to use you.”

Roberts said between fiscal years 2012 through 2016, Walmart spent $189 million on women and diverse attorneys.

The company’s legal department has launched a program called “Walmart Ready” in response to concerns that many women and minority attorneys that have been vetted by the company’s legal team have not be given actual work. The initiative brings 100 women and minority attorneys for a day-long visit to Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to gain greater visibility with the company’s legal team and also to learn more about the company’s history.

Mark Roellig, an executive VP and general counsel of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, who helped design the survey, said the push for more diversity and inclusion reflects both fast-changing changing consumer and talent demographics. He pointed to Census Bureau projections that by the year 2042, non-Hispanic whites are expected to become the minority.

These days diversity has become a practical way of doing business, Roellig said.

The survey is available for download here .

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