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Johnson Controls GC: Firms Aren’t Fully Committed to Diversity

June 1, 2015, 3:01 PM

Many businesses struggle to recruit, retain, and promote female and minority professionals, but for lawyers, the struggle is on another level.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed , Stanford Professor Deborah Rhode argues that the legal profession may appear more diverse — especially with an increase in high-profile lawyers like the President, the First Lady, and newly minted attorney general Loretta Lynch — but one ugly fact remains: law practice remains the least inclusive profession in the United States.

Rhode argues further that lawyers aren’t doing enough to change that. There is widespread agreement that diversity is desirable, and that a lot of work needs to be done, but according to Rhode, lawyers still fail to take seriously the unintentional double standards and unconscious biases that rig the game in favor of white males.

Law firms often take the heaviest criticism, but there’s evidence corporate legal departments aren’t doing much better. “Although blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans now constitute about a third of the population and a fifth of law school graduates,” Rhode writes, “they make up fewer than 7 percent of law firm partners and 9 percent of general counsels of large corporations.”

[caption id="attachment_2444" align="alignleft” width="332"][Image “Brian Cadwallader” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Brian-Cadwallader-_high-res_11.jpg)]Brian Cadwallader[/caption]

Brian Cadwallader, Vice President, Secretary, and General Counsel at Johnson Controls , says his company, at least, has made significant progress, and he’d like to see the law firms he works with do a better job keeping up.

“I challenge law firms,” Cadwallader said. “They haven’t seemed to be able to do it on the female track, let alone the minority track. I think they’ve got a lot of work to do. Maybe they need to come see what we do.”

In the final installment of a three-part series, Cadwallader spoke to Big Law Business about the thorny problem of diversity, learning to appreciate different cultures as the child of an international marketer, and his various sports allegiances. Read Part I and Part II .

Part III Excerpts:

A lot of law firm marketing is just lost on me. What I want to know is whether a lawyer is an expert in a particular matter or jurisdiction.

You know, I read somewhere that one of the best ways to judge somebody is to go out to lunch with them and see how they treat a waiter. I don’t know if that’s true. I’m not a psychologist. But I do want to know who someone is when they take their suit and tie off.

I don’t know if I see that kind of commitment [to diversity]. I see them showing up to the right organizations and sponsoring tables and doing all of that, and I certainly know that, when they can, they try to bring in minority participation. But I don’t know if it’s truly one of their major work streams.

When we send out our RFP to a firm, we want to understand what their minority participation is, and what their plans are. We’ve been doing that for two decades now, at least as in-house counsel. It’s either not enough, or it’s missing the point.

Below is an edited transcript of the final installment of our three-part series with Cadwallader.

Big Law Business: What kinds of law firm marketing work for you?

Cadwallader: Certainly, knowing that a firm has demonstrated some capability in a particular area is the first reason I’d be interested in speaking with them. A lot of law firm marketing is just lost on me. What I want to know is whether a lawyer is an expert in a particular matter or jurisdiction. That’s typically how I make my initial contacts.

After that, I do believe relationships matter. Ultimately, I have to trust the advice that a person is giving, and part of that is a human connection. You really have to know how that person thinks and how that person lives his or her life. You have to be able to say, “Yes, I can align myself with this person.”

After all, I’m going to walk down the hall and say, “I advised you to do this, Mr. Ceo, or Mr. and Mrs. Board of Directors,” and in order to feel confident, it’s not just about the legal research I’ve done. I don’t even do that much legal research anymore. That’s not my job. It’s important to know that the people who are giving me the advice are the type of people that I trust. That’s what gives me the strength to walk down the hall and say “This is what we should do, and this is show we should do it.”

So it’s a personal connection, but the initial interest in the firm or the particular lawyer is because I’m aware that they succeeded in a matter similar to the one that I’m faced with.

Big Law Business: Are those relationships built around work? Or is socializing between inside and outside lawyers, away from work, also important?

Cadwallader: I do think getting to know someone in a social context really allows you to understand who they are.

You know, I read somewhere that one of the best ways to judge somebody is to go out to lunch with them and see how they treat a waiter. I don’t know if that’s true. I’m not a psychologist. But I do want to know who someone is when they take their suit and tie off. How they interact with the world around them tells me a lot about a person and makes me feel more comfortable.

Today we have a lot of rules on conflict of interest, and we try and control the amount of time our employees spend socializing at expensive events. But it’s not unusual for me to buy a lunch for a partner that I think is important at a firm I want to understand, and the next time he or she will buy me lunch.

But it’s two-way relationship building. It’s not just a situation where the lawyer takes me to the suite every time. I think that’s inappropriate from a conflict standpoint. But I do think finding ways to get to know people socially is really important, because you get to know who they are.

Big Law Business: How would you grade law firms on diversity? How can firms do a better job of promoting diversity up the ranks?

Cadwallader: This is more of a North American issue, obviously, because the rest of the world has yet to grapple totally with their gender and diversity issues. So in some ways we’re bringing change as we go global, especially on gender diversity, where we’re forcing the issue.

But if you look at the North American issue, I’m fascinated with the fact that, for example, 50 or 51 per cent of my graduating law school class was female, but today, 50 or 51 per cent of senior partners at major law firms are not female. I don’t understand. It’s not like we don’t have a pool of talented experienced females to pick from. Fifty per cent or more of my department is female, four of my direct reports are female. I can figure out how to do it. I don’t understand why law firms can’t.

There are a lot more women partners today than there have been, but I doubt if you count them up and find it’s 50-50 . I’m fascinated because the generation that I came up with, who are now at the senior partner level, certainly had the opportunity to bring along a lot of talented females.

Some say it’s the so-called “mommy track,” and that might be a problem. Certainly biology says women end up having the babies. But I wonder what law firms have done to help them through that. It shouldn’t be a death knell to their career. So I struggle with this. I don’t understand why firms can’t do it, if we’ve figured out how to do it in-house.

As far as racial diversity goes, it depends on the particular ethnic background, but certainly we struggle as much as law firms do to bring African Americans in and then bring them along the path. Of course, those that make it through law school, and especially good law schools, really have a lot of choices, so part of the problem is supply and demand.

There are a number of studies coming out that show African Americans are, as a percentage of graduating law school classes, well below their representation in society in general. I think it’s a pipeline issue that we have to figure out how to fix in the profession.

It’s actually kind of scary that we have to start training a lot of new lawyers in-house, because big law isn’t hiring as many associates. But I also see it as an opportunity. We can do something for the profession by, maybe more aggressively, and with more focus, finding as many good minority candidates as we possibly can.

As we learn how to train young lawyers, I don’t know why minorities won’t be a big percentage of the lawyers that we’re training. Our chairman has identified this as one of his primary objectives during his term as chairman — that we’ll find a way to bring in talented female and minority candidates for all of our important roles.

So I challenge law firms. They haven’t seemed to be able to do it on the female track, let alone the minority track. I think they’ve got a lot of work to do. Maybe they need to come see what we do, because we’re certainly succeeding on the female side, and if we bring that kind of focus on the minority side I think we’ll be able to help the profession and society in general.

Big Law Business: Is diversity a problem firms are also passionate about, and it’s just a harder nut for them to crack? Or do you get the feeling they’re not as committed to improving?

Cadwallader: Well, I’m going to give them all the benefit of the doubt, and I’d certainly say the discussions I have today, versus 20 years ago, are certainly more from the heart. You really do feel that firms want to do something.

But I do wonder whether firms actually have project teams devoted to this, whether they actually have a plan. Do they report back on what they’re doing and measure it against their plan to improve minority participation?

I don’t know if I see that kind of commitment. I see them showing up to the right organizations and sponsoring tables and doing all of that, and I certainly know that, when they can, they try to bring in minority participation. But I don’t know if it’s truly one of their major work streams of the department or their firm.

Until you see that level of commitment I don’t know if you can expect change. Yes, I think it’s a tough nut to crack, but until you put that type of focus on it, I don’t think even an easy nut would be cracked.

Big Law Business: Are corporate clients really putting enough pressure on firms to change?

Cadwallader: I’ve been in four corporations, and certainly the last two have been putting pressure. When we send out our RFP to a firm, we want to understand what their minority participation is, and what their plans are.

We’ve been doing that for two decades now, at least as in-house counsel. It’s either not enough, or it’s missing the point. I think law firms will have to stop staying “Well, we’ve just got to be able to answer the RFP,” and start saying “This is how we want to practice law.”

That’s the commitment — that law firm wide commitment to getting it done — which I wonder about. And I’m sure there’ll be partners managing partners at many law firms that’ll want to tell me why I’m wrong, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Big Law Business: You said you moved around a lot as a kid. Have those experiences been helpful at the multi-national corporations you’ve worked for?

Cadwallader: I think so. I’m fascinated with different cultures. A lot of people, when they go overseas for the first time, are a little scared or nervous, or are more worried about how they can get home safely.

I’m always fascinated to sit and have dinner with somebody in a new country, and to listen to what they have to say about their lives, what they’re working for.

Of course we deal with professionals, but no matter where I’ve been in the world, there’s one thing that every person I’ve dealt with wants: they want to be able to leave their children better off than they started. That’s not just the American dream. It’s the universal dream of every parent.

[caption id="attachment_2445" align="aligncenter” width="685"][Image “Photo of Lambeau Fields by David Wilson (Flickr/Creative Commons)” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/5380992968_4fe6f1d7b8_z.jpg)]Photo of Lambeau Fields by David Wilson (Flickr/Creative Commons)[/caption]

Big Law Business: You’ve also bounced around the Midwest. Did you end up with a sports town you’re loyal to?

Cadwallader: I learned early to love the team in whatever city I’m in. But Wisconsin is the first place I’ve moved where the first question out of people’s mouth is “What team do you support?” If you say anything other than the Packers, they’ll be very polite, but you’ve just moved down a peg in their estimation.

I do still think fondly of the St. Louis Blues. When I was in law school it was the one ticket I could afford. I was sitting up in the rafters, but I could buy a five dollar ticket and go see a hockey game.

Big Law Business: But when all else fails, you’re a Packer’s fan?

Cadwallader: If you live in Wisconsin, you better love the Packers. I will say, until you’ve been to a Packers home game you really haven’t experienced football the way it used to be. Lambeau Field is a special place.

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