Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images
Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images

Can Two Dozen GCs Bring Diversity to Law Firms?

Paul Dacier, general counsel of EMC, says half of the direct reports he manages are women, many of whom are working mothers. It’s why his 120-member legal team is among the most diverse groups at his company.

So why can’t law firms figure how to achieve the same thing?

“Diversity is a very important matter for our society and particularly for the legal profession,” said Dacier, adding, “If I can have one of the most diverse departments in the company, then I expect the same from the attorneys who work with me.”

Fed up with the lack of progress on diversity at law firms, Dacier and 23 top lawyers from other Fortune 1000 companies — including McDonalds, CBS Corporation, Verizon, TIAA-CREF — have signed a letter pledging to uphold an ABA Resolution that seeks to change that.

Passed by the ABA’s House of Delegates in San Francisco last month, Resolution 113 calls on clients to direct a greater percentage of the legal services they purchase to diverse attorneys. It flows from the work of the ABA’s Diversity & Inclusion 360 Commission, which was created by immediate past ABA President Paulette Brown during her 2015-2016 tenure to advance diversity.

In order to give Resolution 113 some teeth, Mark Roellig, the general counsel of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, who was an honorary chair of the commission, along with Karen Roberts, general counsel of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., rounded up some in house lawyers interested in making a difference. They signed a letter asking other top in house lawyers to track the diversity of the law firms they employ as outside counsel and to use the data when making hiring decisions through a survey, available on the ABA website.

It asks law firms about their demographic profile across equity partners, non-equity partners and all other levels, and looks at leadership positions and committee compositions. The letter also states that GCs who sign onto the letter must agree to make diversity a strong factor in their hiring and firing decision of outside counsel.

Roellig said the ABA will publish the names of GCs who sign on its website.

Craig Silliman, General Counsel of Verizon Communications Inc., one of the letter’s 24 signatories, says that one of the main problems he and his fellow GCs have faced, has been obtaining uniform data from the outside counsel he hires. The model survey gives data in a consistent format that enables comparison across law firms.

Silliman said that as a Caucasian male who never fit into the category of “diversity,” it is important for him to advocate for change.

“If it is only women talking about diversity, it becomes a women’s issue. If it is only ethnic people talking about diversity, it is an ethnic person’s issue,” he said. “Men need to be talking too because this is about how we ensure we get the very best talent in our companies.”

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