File art. Photographer: Luke MacGregor (Bloomberg via Getty Images)
File art. Photographer: Luke MacGregor (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

An NFL Rooney Rule for Law Firms?

Can law firms borrow ideas from professional sports leagues to improve gender equality?

Lawyers said at a conference on Friday that firms should adopt the equivalent of the National Football League’s Rooney rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other senior positions.

“Our proposal is quite simple: Adopt a Rooney rule for law firms,” said Nina Markey, a shareholder at Littler Mendelson who presented the idea in a team of nine members including lawyers and a law student.

The pitch came at the Women in Law Hackathon at Stanford Law School, where lawyers pitched ideas to a panel of judges about how to improve gender parity at law firms.

“This rule, we call the Mansfield rule, after Arabella Mansfield, the first female attorney to obtain a law license in the United States,” said Markey.

Under the rule, firms would be required to consider at least one woman in key leadership positions and other opportunities throughout the firm, she said.

This includes consideration in seven areas, said co-speaker Mark Helm, who is a former co-managing partner of Munger Tolles & Olson:

  • Participants in client pitches.
  • Office leadership – partner-in charge and other regional management posts.
  • Succession plans to replace client relationship partners.
  • Input in lateral partner searches.
  • Promotion to partnership.
  • Practice group leaders.
  • Members on the firm’s top executive committee.

The day included nine teams of nine members which included law firm partners, law students and consultants. Each team pitched their own idea to a panel of nine judges who decided which ideas were best and received funding.

The judges included Tony West, the general counsel of PepsiCo, Lucy Endel Bassil, the assistant general counsel of Microsoft Corporation and Alan Bryan, the senior associate general counsel of legal opertions at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. [Bloomberg Law was a sponsor of the event and its president David Perla was a judge.]

Bloomberg Law pledged to provide the top three winning teams with prize money — 1st place $10,000, 2nd place $7,500 and 3rd place $5,000 — to donate to their non-profit organization of choice that advances women in the legal profession. Diversity Lab, a company dedicated to the advancement of women in the legal profession and organizer of the event, has donated another $5,000 to be awarded to a Crowd Favorite, chosen by the audience.

When Perla asked Markey, the Littler lawyer who proposed the Mansfield rule, whether any of the firms have adopted the rule yet, Markey said Littler was onboard.

Helm, the co-managing partner of Munger, vowed that his firm would adopt it once he asks: “I can deliver Munger. I promise.”

Another proposal suggested an app to keep score of lawyers, including women in their client pitches and staffing different matters.

One of the judges questioned the wisdom of “gamifying” the issue of diversity. Miriam Rivera, a former Google deputy general counsel turned venture capitalist, asked whether it could create cultural problems in a law firm environment.

“I had a tracking feature that was a public leaderboard,” said Rivera of her time at Google. “That was not very well received in the team. It was not found to be collaborative… Do we care about those aspects of culture within law firms? Or is it just within law firms that it’s OK?”

Gina Kastel, partner at Faegre Baker Daniels, who presented the app idea, said that “if law firms are serious about this, we have to make some changes. The hope is that this will be a positive.”

At the end of the day, it was a team that proposed a new compensation model for law firms, called SMART, that took home the first place prize.

“We don’t think our compensation systems match our value systems,” said Perlette Jura, co-chair of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher’s transactional litigation group, who helped present SMART.

SMART stood for Solutions to Measure Advance and Reward Talent.

“We are not putting together transparent values from a compensation perspective on time spent managing diversity, training and sponsoring,” said Jura.

She noted that men generally spend more time  drumming up business and billing hours; and meanwhile women spend more time on issues such as diversity and training that don’t translate into more compensation.

SMART would be a way lawyers could evaluate themselves based on a range of value-based metrics to determine their compensation including billable hours, pro bono, business generation, diversity, and training.

This would all be made available to lawyers through an app.

Check back later for more event coverage on Big Law Business.

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