How to Get Started with Your In-House Counsel Commitment To Drive Diversity

Topics: Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Efficiency, Leadership, Legal Innovation, Talent Development, Thomson Reuters, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

women in the workplace

According to the Legal Tracker Legal Department Operations Index report issued by Thomson Reuters last October, just 6% of companies’ chief legal officers (CLOs) have an organization program that drives diversity with their outside counsel. Another 10% are planning to implement a program within the next year.

Overall, only 15% of general counsel surveyed rank using diversity as a factor in law firm selection as a medium or greater priority. Sadly, despite much effort to raise acknowledgment of the need for diversity, we still see too few legal departments truly thinking about it and even fewer taking concrete action.

Rest assured, there are amazing results being generated from the most committed in-house legal teams on diversity and inclusion (D&I). But we are not near the tipping point yet. Most corporations I speak with are at a minimum collecting D&I data from their outside counsel during every re-bidding cycle (usually every three years), but the information is not being used to make hiring or staffing decisions about matters.

If you are wondering where to get started, there are a couple of approaches to begin driving impact. Indeed, the most impactful approaches involve top-down commitment — the CLO advances D&I through policy and incentives for outside counsel to assign women and attorneys of color as matter leads and relationship managers. However, there are light-touch approaches and more intensive ways to achieve the desired impact at the legal organization level:

Spur D&I Progress Through Succession Planning — 3M, which had been gathering reams of data, made a decision to return to the basics. It started with the relationship partners of their panel of outside counsel. The company approached each of the firms one-by-one to request that the successor to the relationship partner at the law firm be a woman or a diverse attorney. There was no time requirement, and whatever the timeline was, 3M chose to use the opportunity to help determine the successor and ensured the successor would be attending all of the existing meetings between the company and the firm as well as working on its matters.

Advance D&I through Objectives and Data — A more intense approach involves setting D&I objectives for all of your outside counsel and centrally assigning to one person the responsibility for data collection and scoring of the law firms. Just as the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) collects data, many large corporations can collect D&I data from its external counsel to measure how each law firm is doing in achieving the D&I staffing expectations set by the company. Then, these metrics can be considered when staffing matters for the company.

Whatever the approach, many companies are upping their commitment to diversity and inclusion as seen in ABA resolution 113.

Now, it is time for more companies to walk the talk.