Answering the Call to Action
By Gillian P. Yee
Gillian P. Yee is an attorney with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, PLLC in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She can be contacted at gillian.yee@ogletreedeakins.com.
Diversity matters, especially to the more than 100 major national corporations that have pledged their commitment to advancing diversity within the legal profession in the document A Call to Action: Diversity in the Legal Profession. Written in 2004 by Roderick (Rick) Palmore of General Mills, Inc., A Call to Action is designed to encourage corporate attorneys to pledge to take steps toward increasing diversity within their own legal departments and with outside firms doing business with their companies. See http://clocalltoaction.com.
Since the document’s inception, corporations ranging from American Airlines, Inc. to Starbucks Coffee Company and Xerox Corporation have answered the call. These companies realized that business needs have changed to reflect the change in this country’s culture and population. They also have acknowledged that the current state of diversity in the legal profession does not adequately address these changing times, and they are ready to do something about it. See Post Summit Whitepaper (April 2008) available at http://clocalltoaction.com.
A similar initiative for increasing diversity in the workplace was attempted in 1999 when 500 companies signed Diversity in the Workplace—A Statement of Principle and strove to evidence their commitment to diversity, but progress was lacking. Palmore created a new document that asked the corporations to agree to do the following:
  • take action consistent with the Diversity in the Workplace—A Statement of Principle;
  • make an abiding commitment to diversity in their own legal departments;
  • make decisions regarding which law firms represent their companies based in significant part on the diversity performance of the firms;
  • look for opportunities with law firms they regularly use that positively distinguish themselves in diversity issues; and
  • end or limit relationships with firms whose track records reflect a lack of meaningful interest in diversity
In April 2008, the Call to Action corporate signatories held a summit to bring the companies and law firms together to discuss how to combine their efforts to increase diversity in the legal profession. By the end of the conference, during which Sandra Day O’Connor, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and Warren Christopher, former Secretary of State, encouraged the continual development and mentoring of young attorneys, the attendees left with a sense of direction and readiness to begin their work. The following four groups, each led by a Fortune 500 member and a managing partner from a top law firm, were formed to further the commitment to diversity:
  • “Law Firm Call to Action“ will (1) create a similar Call to Action document specific to law firms and (2) create a process to encourage managing partners to become signatories.

  • “Strategies for Law Firm and Corporate Partnerships” will (1) identify some ways that firms and their corporate clients can work together to advance diversity and (2) create a detailed blueprint for partnerships that will effectively create change.
  • “Goals to Measure Success” will (1) identify short- and long-term goals to measure the progress of diversity advancement and (2) act as an advisory board for the ongoing evaluation of data, which will be used as a benchmark for corporate and firm success.
  • “Recruitment, Retention and Advancement” will (1) create best practices that effectively recruit and retain diverse attorneys within firms and (2) publicize these best practices that target known challenges and achieve results.
See Post Summit Whitepaper, supra.
In addition to the efforts set forth by the Call to Action Summit, companies have taken diversity matters into their own hands. In July 2008, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., which works with 500 law firms on a regular basis and 300 on a periodic basis, announced that it would deploy new software in the fall of 2008 to ensure diversity among the attorneys working on its legal matters. See Wal-Mart Keeps Eyes on Firm Diversity , Daily Report (July 17, 2008). Miguel Rivera, Wal-Mart’s associate general counsel for outside counsel management, stated that the software will prevent gaming of the system by measuring the diversity of the attorneys based on the hours billed. Id. Further, Mr. Rivera indicated that Wal-Mart has cut ties with four firms because of the firms’ lack of commitment to diversity. Id.
Similarly, also in July 2008, Microsoft Corp. announced the commencement of the Law Firm Diversity Program, intended to award bonuses to both in-house and outside counsel from the seventeen law firms that handle over $150 million of the company’s legal matters each year for advancing diversity in the workplace. See Diverse Law Firms Will Get Bonuses from Microsoft , Law 360 (July 21, 2008). Under the program, a firm will receive a 2 percent bonus if it obtains a 2 percent increase in the number of hours worked by women and minorities as a percentage of total hours compared to the same period in 2007. Further, 5 percent of the in-house counsel leadership team’s bonus will depend on the level of success in improving the diversity of Microsoft’s law firms. Id.
The bottom line is that diversity is crucial in both business and the attendant legal profession. To compete successfully, both in-house counsel and outside law firms must work together to seek out well-qualified, diverse candidates to fulfill the goal of diversity in the legal profession.
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