Legal Community Collaboration: The Key to Opening Business Development Pathways for Women (Part 2)

Topics: Corporate Legal, Diversity, Law Firms, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

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Earlier this month, in-house counsel and law firm lawyers gathered to discuss how to work together to promote women’s advancement in the law — as part of the Thomson Reuters’ Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law initiative — with the focus on how to remove the structural barriers to women’s advancement in the legal profession.

After findings from research from Carol Frohlinger’s white paper, “Business Development in the New Normal”, were discussed, audience members participated in round table discussions using scenarios developed from the study to identify solutions to help “move the needle” toward gender parity.

One scenario focused on a fictional lawyer, “John Jones”, who is responsible for litigation world-wide for a Fortune 500 company. John is faced with a tricky situation. His new boss — a general counsel who has made it clear that she strongly believes that law firms should demonstrate and be able to quantify their commitment to diversity rather than just talk about it —initiated a review process to reassess the law firms currently on the company’s preferred list to determine whether or not they deserve to remain on that list. Although a demonstrated commitment to diversity is not the only factor, it is one of the criteria to be considered. One of the law firms John often uses for “bet the ranch” matters sent an all-white male team to the review. Not surprisingly, the GC was underwhelmed.

Audience members discussed the answer to the question, “What should John do?”

Offering “John” Advice

Some were of the opinion that John should fire the firm outright for its lack of attention to diversity, an issue clearly important to both his boss as well as a core value of the company overall. Others, some of whom felt that John had an obligation to warn the firm about the GC’s priority on diversity, were inclined to encourage John to “coach” the firm so that it would potentially have an opportunity to recover from the gaffe.

Following this line of thought, key suggestions offered to John were that he should:

  1. offer to partner with the law firm to help enhance its diversity initiatives and to set objectives that make sense for the law firm.
  2. encourage the law firm to build leadership opportunities and visibility for its diverse lawyers with the goal of increasing the diversity not only of its pitch teams but also the composition of the teams that work on the company’s matters.
  3. approach the GC to suggest she signs up for key objectives as outlined in the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s Engage Excellence program. This program includes general counsels from Verizon, General Mills, Dupont and Walmart, and holds outside counsel accountable for the following objectives:
    • Hire diverse lawyers to serve as lead counsel on select matters.
    • Require diverse teams to work on matters.
    • Require the law firms to certify that the diverse lead lawyer hired receives financial credit as originator of the matter.
  4. offer to lead efforts on behalf of the GC to plan a summit on diversity emphasizing the importance of the corporation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. (One audience member recounted that one corporation held such an event and required the managing partners of all of their outside counsel to participate.)
  5. share the corporation’s own diversity numbers at the leadership level and within the corporate legal department to illustrate the company’s commitment and to reinforce the importance to the company’s outside law firms that they should reflect the diversity of its clients, potential juries, opposing counsel, judges, etc. in matters.
  6. offer to mentor diverse lawyers at the law firm to help them learn about the corporation’s business and to understand what the corporations sees as its drivers of value.
  7. conduct a “lessons learned” discussion with the law firm.

Help us to continue the conversation by letting us know what you think in the comments section below. Also, you can read Part 1 of the series.

 (This is the second part of a three-part blog series on this recent Fireside Chat event.)