Recent improvements in diversity in the legal industry stem from more diverse classes of law students, according to
“If you look back 20 or 30 years, you’ll see significant increases in the diversity of law school students. That increase is now playing itself out,” La Lande said in a recent Bloomberg Law survey.
Black general counsel now make up over 5% of all general counsel in the Fortune 1000, a significant milestone tracked by the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative and first reported by Bloomberg Law. We reached out to over 50 Black legal chiefs whose companies were in the Fortune 1000 in 2019 or 2020 to learn more about their careers and diversity at the top of the legal industry and heard from 39 of them.
La Lande joined Chicago-based food and beverage giant Kraft Heinz in 2018. Prior to that, she spent 17 years with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, including as a partner.
These responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Bloomberg Law: What are some key matters you and your team are working on right now?
Rashida La Lande: There’s a lot. More recent projects have been our September 2020 Investor Day, the signing of a deal to sell our natural cheese business to Groupe Lactalis, release of our Environmental, Social and Governance report, and our crisis management/Covid pandemic preparedness and response.
BL: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten, from mentors or others?
RL: Leadership isn’t just about one person leading others. It can and should be collective. Leaders listen, get guidance, and solicit feedback. Although as the leader you make the ultimate call, it should be informed by lots of discussion.
BL: What advice would you give to lawyers who want to go in-house?
RL: It’s so much fun.The joy of going in-house is that the work and the job are not predictable. There’s a lot going on and you shift all the time, providing guidance, perspectives, and advice. Generally, though, I’d recommend that if you’re just graduating from law school, it’s helpful to get experience at a law firm. It provides critical training on a variety of issues. Also, the intensity of a law firm is incredibly helpful in preparing you for in-house roles.
BL: What do you wish you knew at the beginning of your career that you know now?
RL: I wish I knew that everything happens as it’s meant to, more or less. If you work hard and are thoughtful and responsive to clients and colleagues, and prepared to constantly learn and grow, you’ll set yourself up for success. I wish I had known that at the beginning of my career because it would’ve reduced stress at key points.
BL: Why do you think the number of Black general counsel has been on the rise? Have you observed any changes in the past few years that have contributed to recent increases in representation?
RL: If you look back 20 or 30 years, you’ll see a significant increase in the diversity of law school students. That increase is now playing itself out. It certainly didn’t happen overnight, but I think you see a real rise in the last five to 10 years. In addition, the world has changed, and views of what leaders look like have changed. Like the rise of Black general counsel, this hasn’t happened overnight, but these views are clearly shifting towards more diverse representation.
BL: When you’re looking to hire outside counsel, how does diversity come into play in your evaluation of law firms?
RL: Diversity is very important. When we hire outside counsel, we invite people who reflect our culture of diversity as well as our working styles and capabilities. I have a very diverse team. We like arguments, discourse, and attacking a problem from lots of different points of view. This is the process that makes the best sausage. Since we intentionally want a variety of voices, having a diverse team—and hiring diverse outside counsel—is a very natural outcome.
BL: What opportunities or changes has the pandemic brought to your job and your team?
RL: Oh my goodness, there have been so many! My team spearheads Kraft Heinz’s pandemic response, working alongside a cross-functional, collaborative team, so there have been many learnings and many challenges. We have the responsibility of monitoring our company’s pandemic response around the world, talking through best practices, and understanding how regulations are changing in countries around the world. We’re also thinking about how to respond in the months ahead. We have to be responsive, reactive, and proactive.
During this period, Kraft Heinz has also gone through some amazing transitions. We launched a new enterprise strategy in September and unveiled a new vision: to sustainably grow by delighting more consumers globally. This is a vision that really speaks to me and my team, since we lead our company’s Environmental, Social and Governance. The role of ESG in Kraft Heinz has expanded, and we’re excited to share some new announcements in the coming months. Overall, the pandemic has made it crystal clear the crucial role Kraft Heinz plays: we feed the world, and this is something we’re honored and grateful to do.
Questions by Ruiqi Chen and Lisa Helem.