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Cover Story: MCCA's 2010 Best of the Best

The country's premier companies for diversity share best practices and thoughts on increasing inclusion in the legal profession.

By Niki Mitchell and Joshua Shields

EMPLOYERS OF CHOICE

AT&T

 

SOUTH/SOUTHWEST

D. Wayne Watts
D. Wayne Watts

AT&T supplies the world with a range of innovative communications products and services. With a mobile broadband network serving 85.1 million customers across the planet, the company’s social media tagline is “we are where you are.” Given the diversity of the company, its slogan could just as well be “we are WHO you are.”

“Our stated mission is to connect people with their world,” says Wayne Watts, senior executive vice president and general counsel. “With our diverse customer and client base, it makes sense that the company would seek the best, most talented and driven people from varied backgrounds. We don’t just serve communities, we reflect these communities.”

AT&T’s legal department has several diversity initiatives beyond the drive to recruit qualified women and minority lawyers to work on staff. The company contracts with women- and minority-owned law firms, and seeks out diverse lawyers at majority firms to provide AT&T with legal services. The legal department also sponsors an internship program to increase the pipeline of diverse talent to the legal department in the hope that those interns will consider AT&T for employment after graduation.

AT&T has spent $50 billion with diverse businesses since launching its supplier diversity program in 1968 and has won a substantial number of awards for its aggressive diversity efforts. Over the past few years, AT&T has earned recognition as one of the Top 10 Companies for Supplier Diversity, for GLBT Employees, and for African- Americans, all from Diversity Inc. The MCCA Employer of Choice is merely the latest among a long list of diversity awards AT&T has received.

The world’s largest communications holding company by revenue, AT&T courts exemplary talent wherever it exists. The company is interested in attracting and retaining high-quality employees from diverse backgrounds with the goal of fostering a more cooperative, creative, and productive work environment.

AT&T states that its 133-year history of innovation is a story about people from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds coming together to improve the human condition. Watts holds that, in terms of the legal department, this diversity promotes an inclusive culture that welcomes all points of view. Nurturing a diversity of perspectives also allows lawyers to think outside the box. For him, the Employer of Choice award is icing on the cake.

“Teamwork and diversity are internal metrics by which we judge the legal team. Different perspectives allow us to think outside the box and better support the business goals of the company. We can best do that with a talented, diverse, and driven workforce.”

CITGO

 

SOUTH/SOUTHWEST

Dean Hasseman
Dean Hasseman

CITGO is not as large as some of the other corporations that have won the Minority Corporate Counsel Association diversity award this year, but that has not stopped this company from pursuing diversity with great passion. Dean Hasseman is the company’s general counsel.

CITGO is owned by the national oil company of Venezuela. Having a foreign owner makes the company, including the legal department, much more sensitive to cultural differences.

“Commitment to diversity is still the key because it brings a different dimension to discussions around legal issues,” Hasseman says. “But if you believe in the principle and show by your actions that you do, others will believe in it too.”

Formed in 1983, CITGO was originally based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city where roughly three-quarters of the population is white. However, when the company relocated to Houston there was a more diverse potential pool for employment. Now the legal department staff is about 50 percent women and 33 percent ethnic minorities. CITGO, like most companies, is looking for the best talent, Hasseman says.

“An oil company is a capital intensive business,” he says. “It all comes down to people and we rely on those different, insightful perspectives.”

Hasseman, who is white and of Polish descent, brings a unique personal perspective in diversity to his work. He grew up in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, suburbs in the 1950s and says he was introduced early on by his parents to the idea that talent and excellence may come in any color. The Hasseman family physician was a black doctor who had a very diverse patient base. Although Dr. Pinkney’s race wasn’t really a topic of conversation in the family home, his presence spoke volumes to the young Hasseman.

CITGO’s general counsel remembers that lesson to this day and says it informs how he staffs the legal department. He considers “fairness” a universal, but recognizes that it has different meanings in different cultures. That knowledge enables him to better understand the reasoning or position of another person. At a minimum, he says, it promotes better and more open communication.

In terms of how the CITGO legal department operates, Hasseman says he believes diversity contributes to the success of the legal team as well as to the company’s overall success.

SHELL

 

SOUTH/SOUTHWEST

John Esquivel
John Esquivel

A persistant fallacy about diversity is that it’s a feel-good exercise in political correctness with little real value. Shell Oil Company takes the opposite view. The company asserts that in its efforts to find innovative and responsible ways to secure the world’s future energy supply, it will ultimately need the input, talent, knowledge and creativity of a diverse cadre of people from around the world. Under the leadership of Associate General Counsel John Esquivel, the legal department shares this view.

“Shell operates in 130 countries, so diversity is in our DNA,” Esquivel says. “But everybody works in a global economy, and diversity and inclusiveness are critical to the ability to compete.”

The company spends about 15 percent of its budget for legal services with minority- and women-owned law firms. It also seeks to work with majority-owned law firms that share its commitment to diversity, embracing the notion that commitment to principle begins at home. “If we can’t do it locally, we can’t do it globally,” Esquivel says.

Twelve years ago, Esquivel sat on Shell’s original strategic diversity planning committee. He says that while the company had always sought out talent wherever it might live, the strategic planning committee formalized a variety of diversity efforts. Since that time, diversity has been positioned as a central tenet of the company’s global business imperatives. A company-wide Diversity Center monitors and consults on the initiatives in each business unit, including legal services. Each business unit must fill out a diversity scorecard, which is prepared, administered, and analyzed annually by the Diversity Center.

The legal department has initiated a discussion series called “learning lunches” where topics have included the Holocaust, Jim Crow laws, and the death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who, because of his sexual orientation, was targeted, tortured, and killed on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998.

But diversity in the Shell legal department isn’t only about facts and figures. In the fall, the department published a “diversity cookbook,” for internal sale. The book includes not only multicultural recipes, but family stories as well. Esquivel says that near the Thanksgiving holiday, the team hosted a diversity potluck where people brought in dishes and shared stories with their colleagues.

“Winning MCCA’s Employer of Choice award is an honor and humbling, given all the great programs out there. It gives us a chance to pause and look back on Shell’s journey, and it encourages us to move forward.”

KRAFT FOODS

 

MIDWEST

Marc Firestone
Marc Firestone

Kraft Foods Inc. is the largest confectionery, food, and beverage company headquartered in the United States. Worldwide, the company sells its products in 160 countries. With eleven brands with revenues of $1 billion each, Kraft Foods is the world’s favorite pantry.

Clearly, Kraft has a vested interest in maintaining diverse counsel because their customer base is so broad. “Of course, the business case is an element, but it is more than that. Supporting diversity is an important contribution to our society,” says Kraft’s General Counsel Marc Firestone. “I found it ironic that the work of lawyers helped this country overcome the racism that was prevalent prior to the civil rights movement, yet the legal industry is so slow to diversify,” he laments.

Kraft’s general counsel is looking to its supplier firms to spur change. “In any organization, when the leadership makes something a priority, they do what is asked of them. And at Kraft, diversity is a priority,” he says. Are firms getting the message?

“Firms have been receptive,” he says. “I think they view diversity as a competitive advantage over other firms and a lot of the firms are willing to address the challenges. One challenge is the pipeline. Some will say there simply aren’t enough lawyers going into corporate law. If a firm loses a great African American female attorney to the U.S. government, and it alters their diversity statistics significantly, it’s troubling.”

Kraft focuses on recruitment and retention, and urges its outside counsel to do that same. “One solution is to tell firms we are looking for qualities, not credentials. I went to Tulane—I think it is a top 50 law school but I’m not sure,” Firestone says.

Diversity success is still a far-off goal, he emphasizes. “We accept this award with much humility. It encourages us to continue our efforts. It isn’t like getting an award for ‘Best Picture’ because we haven’t done anything yet. We are just starting. The level of progress in the legal industry the past 20 years has been minimal. I was at the Obama Inauguration. There have been tremendous changes in society—look at Mr. Holder as attorney general and the composition of the Supreme Court—but the private legal sector has not kept pace; it is out of sync with the multiculturalism of the United States. By any benchmark, the U.S. is as multicultural as they come and the legal community needs to reflect that.”

MILLERCOORS

 

MIDWEST

Karen Ripley
Karen Ripley

“We’re very fortunate that lots of attorneys like beer,” laughs General Counsel Karen Ripley, when asked how MillerCoors retains talented minority lawyers. Besides providing libations, the company offers enviable professional development opportunities.

“We have a very flexible view of skill sets and abilities. If you come to us as a finance or human resources attorney, you don’t have to stay within that practice area for thirty years. There are opportunities to work with other groups; it’s a very collaborative atmosphere,” Ripley shares.

The company encourages formal goal-setting, feedback, and 360-degree reviews. The legal department participates in corporate diversity initiatives and maintains strong ties to diverse outside counsel.

The legal department is small, with only thirteen lawyers, but 46 percent are women.

MillerCoors emphasizes diversity retention because it is part of the company’s business model. As a consumer goods company, MillerCoors needs to have attorneys that reflect the incredibly diverse consumer base. The brewer is one of the largest in the world and necessity dictates that it has a diverse legal department. After all, almost everyone likes beer.

“We need attorneys that provide different answers because they approach problems from a different point of view. To use corporate jargon: We need to maintain a sustainable corporate advantage,” Ripley says.

New ideas are especially welcome at MillerCoors because of the nature of its business. After Prohibition was overturned in 1933 a series of complex laws governed the manufacture and sale of alcohol products. “We need intelligent lawyers to shift through local, state, and federal regulations, and be able to advise our marketing heads on what direction to take,” explains Ripley. “We need to respect the laws, which are complex, because we make products that people consume.”

Attorneys at MillerCoors balance myriad issues, from raw material purchases to sponsorships with major sports teams to facilitating employment.

That’s part of the fun of working for a major brewer. Ripley says, “the thrill of working for MillerCoors is that when the phone rings, you never know what will be on the other end.”

WELLS FARGO

 

MIDWEST

Jim Strother
Jim Strother

ice Wells Fargo has a history of uniting people in the spirit of inclusion. After the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, it adopted the motto “ocean to ocean” to describe its service that connected over 2,500 communities in 25 states. One hundred and forty one years later, Wells Fargo is still serving diverse communities across the country.

“Diversity is one of our core values. Wells Fargo serves one out of every three Americans, so our customer base is representative of all of America. There is an obvious and direct business imperative to be as diverse as possible,” explains Jim Strother, general counsel for Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo is known as a diverse company. For example, the bank was the first major financial-services company in the U.S. to accept the Matricula card, a primary form of identification for Mexican nationals to open bank accounts—helping Mexican nationals reduce the risks associated with a cash economy.

“It starts with the tone at the top. We advocate for diversity and model behavior. Structurally, we turn to our Legal Group Diversity Council, which is made up of representatives from offices around the country. They come up with new ideas and initiatives for our hiring programs, and are also working on a project to rethink how we approach our outside counsel,” he says.

Since the company’s legal department is scattered across 30 different offices in the U.S. the general counsel has employed several methods of communication to deliver his diversity message to all members of the legal group. Strother devotes a portion of his quarterly Town Hall meetings, which are given via webcast, to highlighting the Legal Group Diversity Council and its various diversity initiatives.

“We have always kept track of our work with minority-owned firms but after our merger with Wachovia we asked our Diversity Council how we can address diversity,” he explains. “They are circulating an independent survey of major law firms, which we will use in conjunction with other surveys conducted by other groups to assess our strategic thinking. We want to know ‘what we can do to move the needle?’”

The proactive approach to diversity means Wells Fargo will continue to lead the financial sector in inclusiveness. “It was a terrific surprise to win the Employer of Choice, but it comes with some humility too, because there is a lot of work to be done and no finish line,” Strother concedes.

CLOROX

 

WEST

Laura Stein
Laura Stein

Clorox is a household name with products that are known across the globe. The company maintains that diversity is more than just an initiative, set of values, or a mission statement. It is also a measure of the company’s ability to grow the business in an increasingly diverse, global marketplace.

“We see great benefit in having a team as diverse as our customers,” says Laura Stein, senior vice president and general counsel. “Diversity and inclusiveness lead to diversity of thought, more creative thinking, and innovation in finding solutions to problems.”

Stein’s legal unit has a dedicated diversity and inclusiveness team that creates an annual action plan to improve and promote the department’s diversity efforts. About one-half of the department’s lawyers are women, and people of color comprise one-third.

There also is a mentoring initiative to promote diversity as people rise through the ranks, and a communication team focused on ways to foster candor, openness and the expression of diverse views without fear of censure. Stein says that in staff meetings there is frequently time set aside to talk about values and diversity best practices. The Clorox legal department also contracts with minority and women-owned law firms to provide legal services.

The larger company has launched an initiative called the “People strategy,” which is part of Clorox’s effort to inspire greater workforce diversity. To that end, they’ve created five employee resource groups: African-American, Asian/ Pacific, Hispanic, women and LGBT. The resource groups are intended to help with mentoring and coaching, provide input to senior leaders, and work with human resources and community relations on diversity-related outreach.

The Clorox legal department is pleased to be a recipient of the MCCA Employer of Choice award for diversity and pledges to continue to work toward more diversity and inclusion in the future.

“There are so many companies out there doing great work to promote more diversity,” Stein says. “We feel hugely honored and privileged to receive this recognition.”

SYNOPSYS INC.

 

WEST

Daniel Feldstein
Daniel Feldstein

Synopsys, Inc. is a world leader in electronic design automation, supplying the global electronics market with products to improve performance, increase productivity and achieve predictable success from systems to silicon. Operating in 29 countries across North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America, diversity is not just the right thing to do; it is a business imperative for Synopsys. To be successful, company leaders believe they must understand the cultures where its products are marketed and sold. Senior Corporate Counsel Daniel Feldstein says additional benefits come from fostering an inclusive environment within the company.

“Diversity allows our team to bring more views to the table, which means we consider issues from a series of different vantage points. Ultimately, this bolsters our ability to provide world class advice to the businesses we support,” says Feldstein.

When he came to work for Synopsys more than two years ago, Feldstein says General Counsel Brian Cabrera emphasized to him that diversity on the legal team was extremely important. The general counsel regularly looks at the diverse make-up of the legal department and tracks where it is compared to the rest of the company. Four years ago, the Senior Legal Team had only minimal female representatives. But now women and people of color make up a majority of the Senior Legal Team.

However, Cabrera does not necessarily limit diversity to ethnicity or gender alone. Feldstein believes that the general counsel may have been interested in the diverse experiences on his resume which included interning at the East Bay Community Law Center, serving a largely lower income African-American community, and writing for the Race and Law Journal at the University of Michigan Law School. Cabrera’s commitment to diversity is also part of what attracted Feldstein to join Synopsys.

In addition to practicing diversity within the company, Synopsys sponsors community involvement programs to inspire and nurture the next generation of the world’s technologists— many of whom will become future employees, partners and customers. The company emphasizes the importance of science and math education, and collaborates with business partners, nonprofit organizations, and universities to share knowledge with underserved students. By actively partnering with local organizations, encouraging employee leadership, and providing financial donations, Feldstein says Synopsys’ global workforce improves the quality of life and economic vitality in the communities where it is located.

“This demonstrates that there is added value in promoting diversity beyond just good PR,” says Feldstein. “It’s great to be recognized for something we’re passionate about doing.”

CAPITAL ONE

 

MID-ATLANTIC

Stephen Gannon
Stephen Gannon

ice In addition to promoting diversity within its ranks, Capital One supports the diverse communities it serves. From supporting the development of affordable low-income housing to doing business with women- and minority-owned law firms, Capital One makes the advancement of diversity a priority.

“We are intentionally direct about fostering diversity,” says Stephen Gannon, executive vice president and deputy general counsel. “We want the best talent and what we’ve found is that we have no problem finding it in diverse communities,” Gannon says.

At the corporate level, Capital One identifies and encourages ethnic minority- and women-owned businesses to compete for business with Capital One. Its Supplier Diversity program has received national recognition for its inclusion of minority- and women-owned businesses in its supply chain and procurement operations.

Capital One’s legal department also has developed a Preferred Provider Network of law firms that deliver the majority of legal services to the company. These firms are required to report monthly on their diversity efforts to Capital One. To keep its own house in order, Capital One’s legal department reviews its own associate population. Capital One has instituted a talent review process internally, which is a way for the corporation to monitor, develop, and retain diverse talent over a longer course of time.

The company also has instituted a series of “Straight Talk” courses to promote open communication about issues around diversity. The courses are aimed at every level of the corporation.

Gannon says that winning MCCA’s Employer of Choice award is a great acknowledgement but an even greater incentive for the future.

“This is tremendously positive. We’ve been ramping up our efforts over the last few years, and the recognition has made everyone here very proud.”

GSK

 

MID-ATLANTIC

Dan Troy
Dan Troy

ice As a pharmaceutical company seeking to improve the quality of human life by developing medicines and products that help millions of people around the world, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) holds itself to a high standard. That standard applies not only to the products GSK creates, but also to its corporate governance. Over the years, diversity has assumed an increasingly important role in that governance.

In order to inspire trust and confidence in the company and its products, GSK relies on a diverse workforce and diverse strategic partnerships throughout the company. Dan Troy is the company’s senior vice president and general counsel. He says the legal department has significantly ramped up its diversity program since he came on board two years ago. Not only are women and people of color now represented on the legal management team, but the department does significant outreach in North Carolina and Philadelphia where the UK-headquartered company has a large U.S. presence. The legal department recruits from local universities and law schools to widen the employment pool. It also sponsors a program in Philadelphia’s inner-city schools to educate students about patents. Student participants are challenged to invent something new and GSK lawyers judge the merit of their innovations.

Troy says that his personal experience as an Orthodox Jew helps to inform his passion for promoting diversity in the legal department. He says the company has been extremely considerate in accommodating his religious observances.

“I feel a profound sense of obligation to give back to the company because that’s how the company has treated me,” he says.

GSK has also made a deliberate effort to do business with minority-owned businesses. The supplier diversity program helps to advance GSK’s social responsibility commitment to improve the economies of the various multicultural, multiethnic communities it serves around the world. In 2009, the company committed 21 percent of its U.S. Pharma and Consumer Healthcare discretionary spending to small and diverse businesses. By increasing the diversity of its supply chain, GSK helps to strengthen minorityowned businesses allowing them, in turn, to create jobs, and boost their local economies.

GSK also has a global diversity program led by the head of its European business. Overall, it is the company’s continued intent to draw on the different knowledge, perspectives, experiences, and styles found throughout the global community.

“We still have an enormous amount [of work] to do to achieve greater diversity,” Troy says. “But we’re passionate about the pursuit.”

PEPCO

 

MID-ATLANTIC

Deborah Royster
Deborah Royster

Pepco Holdings Inc. (PHI), headquartered in Washington, D.C., delivers electricity and natural gas to about 1.8 million customers in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. Given the diversity of the markets the company serves, it recognizes that diversity in the workforce and the legal department is critical to PHI’s present as well as long-term success.

“We work in an industry that’s changing very rapidly,” says Deborah Royster, deputy general counsel. “As a result, we’re transforming our relationships with our customers. We must be able to understand the communities we serve and their needs in order to communicate effectively around these changes. Diversity is key to that understanding.”

Through PHI’s Supplier Diversity initiative, the company has built successful partnerships with small minority- and woman-owned businesses to enhance customer service and reliability, lower costs, and improve operational efficiencies. The legal department has built similarly successful relationships with minority- and women-owned law firms when outside legal services are needed. When dealing with majority law firms, PHI seeks to work with diverse attorneys.

PHI defines “diversity” in terms that include ethnicity, gender, age, and sexual orientation and identity. It also views diversity through the prism of personal history, experience and point of view, all of which are represented in the legal department.

“Diversity of thought allows us to cast a wide net in terms of ideas,” Royster says. “This brings a richness to legal discussions that ultimately conclude in more fully realized and reasoned judgments about legal strategies and better outcomes for our business.”

The company’s success in fostering and maintaining diversity in its workforce, with suppliers and within the communities it serves, has been recognized by DiversityInc., Black Enterprise Magazine, Hispanic Business Magazine, Edison Electric Institute, Veterans Business Journal, the Maryland Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and the National Minority Supplier Development Council among others. The company can now add MCCA’s Employer of Choice Award to its list of honors.

“Since diversity is a core value of PHI, we are delighted and honored to be recognized for our commitment to it,” Royster says.

BOEHRINGER INGELHEIM PHARMACEUTICALS

 

NORTHEAST

Marla Persky
Marla Persky

ice Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals is the world’s largest privately held pharmaceutical company. For 125 years, the company and its employees have been dedicated to the research, development, manufacture and sale of innovative medicines that help bring better health to patients and their families. Composed of 142 affiliated companies in 47 countries, and employing over 41,000 people, Boehringer Ingelheim is the definition of a global collective.

“Diversity is part of our company culture,” explains Marla Persky, general counsel for Boehringer Ingelheim’s United States branch. She stresses that the company’s diversity is a competitive advantage. “I have personally practiced law long enough to know what it is like to be in the minority—the only woman in the room in many situations. I have worked on both diverse and non-diverse teams. The team effectiveness and work product is always better on diverse teams. In any organization, a diversity of thoughts, experience, and people creates better results.” As past president of the Lawyers Collaborative for Diversity, a Connecticut-based organization dedicated to increasing diversity within the legal profession and as a founding member of the Leadership Council on Diversity, as well as being the current executive sponsor of the Boehringer Ingelheim employee resource group, Working with Pride, Persky has been a leading advocate for diversity in every area.

Her department members are measured on diversity and inclusion goals as part of their annual performance evaluation. The law department also evaluates its outside counsel. “We pick firms based on their quality of work and business acumen. An important element of business acumen is diversity. The firms we use are rated annually for diversity and inclusion. We provide ‘report cards’ that point out where firms can do better, and they appreciate this because they use the feedback to improve. We look at four things: the percentage of work billed Boehringer by minorities and women, internal diversity efforts, external diversity efforts, and supplier diversity programs,” explains Persky.

The efforts have helped make Boehringer Ingelheim’s legal department a diversity leader at the company. “We want other departments to emulate us. After all, it is so much easier to copy than create,” Persky says.

So what’s next for Boehringer Ingelheim?

“The next step is to move from diversity to inclusion. It is one thing to bring a diverse team together but quite another to create an environment where all the diverse members of that team can thrive and succeed. We shouldn’t have to look outside the company for diversity. We want an inclusive workforce where all can climb the corporate ladder,” she says.

METLIFE

 

NORTHEAST

Nick Latrenta
Nick Latrenta

MetLife is an iconic American brand. Whether you recognize the company from its name on skyscrapers in New York City or from Snoopy’s Red Baron on the side of the MetLife blimp at your favorite sporting event, MetLife is there. For over 140 years MetLife has been a leading provider of insurance and other financial services to millions of individuals and institutional customers throughout the United States. Moreover, MetLife’s international presence will soon expand greatly with its pending acquisition of ALICO, a large global life insurer.

“We have a pronounced focus on attracting talent with diverse views into the company. We sell intangible services— financial services—and it is important to have people that can think outside the box and provide a diverse perspective on how we develop, market, sell and administer our products,” says Nick Latrenta, MetLife’s general counsel.

The Legal Affairs Diversity Committee takes charge of MetLife’s initiatives. “We have nine specific subcommittees that deal with different aspects of diversity. For example, our vendor diversity group helps us focus on and track diversity spend with our outside counsel,” Latrenta explains.

There are several scholarships sponsored by MetLife but the company’s projects are not limited to funding scholarships. “We recently had a breakfast meeting with law students. Think of it as a law student reception. We had about 75 students, of all backgrounds, with youth and enthusiasm being the characteristics they all shared. Our attorneys gave presentations on the legal work done at MetLife to orient them to what they can expect from the job market,” Latrenta says.

Diversity is not going to increase without specific focus and actions, Latrenta believes. “At the end of the day—what I really think—you have to have programs and processes behind [the diversity movement]. It would be serendipitous if you walked into a company and found a very diverse workforce but found no diversity programs. It just doesn’t happen—at least not yet.”

An important way to demonstrate the effectiveness of diversity is through the business prism. “At MetLife we have a LGBT group and we recently had a town hall meeting where lawyers and other MetLife associates interacted with our business partners who were trying to attract business from these communities. It was a great intersection of diversity efforts and business efforts, and together with a focus on diversity in the workplace (by having a culture of inclusiveness) is one of the best ways to promote the benefits of diversity,” Latrenta says.

STAPLES

 

NORTHEAST

Kristin Campbell
Kristin Campbell

Staples is the world’s largest office products company. The company based outside of Boston is a necessity for any lawyer—unless there is an attorney who doesn’t have an office or office supplies. But with $23 billion in sales, Staples caters to more than just lawyers. They help every type of business, in 26 countries spread across six continents.

“Diversity has always been important to Staples. It is one of the cornerstones of our corporate culture. Even so, our CEO made diversity and sustainability his two main goals for 2010,” says Kristin Campbell, Staples’ general counsel. “The message is really coming from the top of the organization.”

Campbell believes that the legal department will lead the company in best diversity practices, she says. “Before we set up a formal diversity program we were a diverse group. In the last couple of years we have formalized our strategy for the next four or five years,” Campbell shares.

The Staples “Diversity Action Plan” is a three-pronged initiative. Internally, the legal department promotes diversity through lunch programs, electronic postings and blogs, legal whiteboards, and learning activities, like diversity bingo. Cultural events bring employees together in a nonwork setting to expand their knowledge and experiences, such as Cinco de Mayo activities and attending a Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast. “It might sound a bit corny, but luncheons where people bring foods that represent their heritage are really fun and informative,” Campbell says.

As part of the company’s external outreach, Staples’ legal department hosts lunch-and-learn presentations by diverse partners in its outside counsel firms. “We suggest— a polite way of demand—that our outside firms think about how they will meet our diversity goals. We will absolutely track diversity metrics for large law firms. I think it is very important to make sure these big, traditional law firms understand that diversity is what companies are going to demand in the future,” Campbell explains.

Staples’ legal department also tracks and monitors its use of women- and minority-owned law firms. “There are some questions about how we will track the use of minorityand women-owned firms,” Campbell says. “I think it is a good sign because they are trying to figure it out.”

“My take on diversity is like a tapestry,” she explains. “The more components you have, the richer the output becomes. The work is better and we are more productive. There is more innovation because people think differently and that benefits everyone.”

SAGER AWARD WINNING LAW FIRMS

BAKER BOTTS LLP

 

SOUTH/SOUTHWEST

Walt Smith
Walt Smith

“At Baker Botts, we know that having a diverse staff is extremely valuable,” reads the opening line of the diversity statement of Baker Botts. This Texasbased international firm, with more than 750 lawyers in 13 offices worldwide, treats diversity as much more than just a stated policy.

Sylvia F. James, the firm’s diversity counsel, says diversity has become an integral part of Baker Botts’ corporate culture. The firm’s staffing demographics support her assertion. Today, under the leadership of managing partner Walt Smith, 15 percent of the firm’s lawyers, 19 percent of its associates, and 8 percent of its partners are minorities. Women comprise 29 percent of the firm’s lawyers, 36 percent of its associates, and 17 percent of its partners.

“We have visible, engaged, and vocal involvement and support for diversity from the very top—from the managing partner to the executive team,” says James, who works with the firm’s Diversity Council to develop and implement diversity initiatives. “Diversity has gotten so woven into everything we do at the firm. We have a culture that recognizes, values, and celebrates diversity.”

Evidence of Baker Botts’ commitment to diversity is perhaps most apparent in the human resources side of its business, from its mentoring of minority law students and recruiting of diverse lawyers, to its providing networking and professional development opportunities to minority and women lawyers.

As an additional indicator of the extent to which diversity is valued by people in the firm, James cites attendance at a recent training given to lawyers on the topic of unconscious bias. Although the training wasn’t mandatory, nearly all of the partners participated and no one challenged the validity or veracity of unconscious bias.

Baker Botts implements a supplier diversity program to enable women- and minority-owned businesses to compete for procurement opportunities at the firm. The firm also requires its prime contractors to commit to subcontracting to these businesses. The program has been so successful that the firm has already exceeded its $4 million spending goal with diverse businesses by $9 million.

“We are so incredibly honored to have received the Sager award,” James says. “Diversity is something we’re very, very proud of.”

Even so, James says the firm’s work is not done.

“Our diversity demographics are not where we want them to be. However, we are in the process of implementing an aggressive strategic-diversity action plan and I’m confident that the numbers will increase significantly within a reasonable time period.”

SUTIN THAYER & BROWNE

 

SOUTH/SOUTHWEST

Sarita Nair
Sarita Nair

Over the past five years, New Mexicobased Sutin Thayer & Browne has boasted a 100 percent minority retention rate among its lawyers, and its promotion rates are equal for men and women and for people of color and nonminorities. Sarita Nair credits these remarkable accomplishments to initiatives that include establishing professional development plans for each lawyer with an eye toward retention and promotion. In each plan, lawyers set goals and are provided with mentors to help them stay on track.

The firm’s impressive record follows an internal evaluation of its recruiting and associate training program that indicated some changes were needed.

“We all had the same sense that it was a great place to work as a woman, as a parent, but we weren’t as diverse as we should be,” Nair says. “We did a lot of looking inward. Where are we losing minority applicants? Where are they leaving once they’re here? We were losing people before they even got here,” she says, citing the lack of diversity in the firm’s applicant pool at the time. “It was really about getting people in the door.”

Today, 24 percent of the 50 lawyers at the 100-person law firm are people of color; 12 percent are openly gay. Among shareholders, 26 percent are minority and 50 percent are women.

Firm lawyers regularly chair the New Mexico Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Mentoring Program and participate in the Hispanic National Bar’s mentoring program. The firm hosts professional development workshops with local chapters of the Black Law Student Association, Mexican American Law Student Association, Native American Law Student Association and LAMBDA. Those meetings provide students with a deeper understanding of what it’s like to work in a law firm while allowing the firm to strengthen its relationships with minority organizations and to boost its applicant pool.

Where other firms emphasize grades and prior experience, Sutin evaluates prospective lawyers on a different set of values, including their commitment to passions outside of their legal career, which Nair says they’ll need to sustain them in what can be a difficult profession.

“It was a great honor,” to receive the Sager award, Nair says. “It was an eye opener to us about what a special place we have here. We have created something special and representative of the direction the profession is heading.”

SHOOK HARDY & BACON

 

MIDWEST

Michelle Wimes
Michelle Wimes

Shook Hardy & Bacon (SHB) is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. While the city is not known as a diversity hotbed, SHB views diversity as a cornerstone of a successful law firm.

Director of Strategic Diversity Initiatives Michelle Wimes says the firm has been promoting, evaluating and refining its diversity initiatives for the past ten years. SHB also participates in the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, an organization of chief legal officers from Fortune 500 companies and law firm managing partners dedicated to improving diversity in the legal profession. Last year, SHB created a firm-wide strategic diversity plan, expanded staff initiatives and provided scholarships while maintaining a work environment where all staff felt respected and appreciated, and their contributions were valued.

“We challenged ourselves to reaffirm our focus and develop creative ways to pursue our initiatives while providing quality service to our clients,” Wimes says.

The Diversity Committee at SHB is comprised of eight sub-groups including a recruitment sub-committee which is responsible for ensuring a diverse class of summer associates; a retention sub-committee, which is responsible for initiatives to ensure that diverse attorneys brought to the firm are successful; and a buy-in sub-committee which consists solely of partners who are the face of diversity at the firm and who work to promote investment in diversity initiatives and efforts in the firm.

The Women’s Management Council is a proactive group of SHB women partners that promotes programs targeting the unique challenges facing women practitioners.

To increase the pipeline, SHB conducts law school workshops and partners with student organizations such as the Hispanic Law Students Association and the Black Law Students Association to offer emerging lawyers practical advice on improving their resumes and interviewing skills. The firm also recruits at minority job fairs across the nation, including the Bay Area Minority Job Fair, DuPont Minority Job Fair, Lavender Law Job Fair, and the Southeastern Minority Job Fair. SHB also sponsors the Heartland Minority Job Fair which attracts potential recruits from all over the country.

The Shook Hardy & Bacon Foundation, a nonprofit organization, gives away $50,000 a year in scholarships to diverse law students and further provides funding for student support services such as tutoring. SHB appreciates and celebrates winning the MCCA Sager award.

“We were thrilled,” Wimes says. “MCCA’s acknowledgement of our efforts as leaders in diversity is exciting.”

MUNGER TOLLES & OLSON

 

WEST

Blanca Fromm Young
Blanca Fromm Young

Munger, Tolles and Olson (MTO) holds diversity high on its list of bedrock values because it’s the right thing to do, it improves the firm’s ability to serve its clients, and it creates a more dynamic workplace for the attorneys. Sustaining diversity means more than hiring women and ethnic minorities to work for the firm, however. To retain a diverse workforce, the firm has created programs, strategies and initiatives to support the success of the people who work there.

One such project is the recent completion of a fullservice day-care center. In partnership with Bright Horizons, a leading provider of employer-sponsored child care, back-up care, and early education, MTO built its first day-care center for the children of employees a few blocks from the Los Angeles headquarters. MTO is one of the first West Coast law firms to provide a state-of-the-art child-care center.

“We’re proud of the center because it helps promote a work/life balance,” according to Blanca Fromm Young, MTO’s diversity committee co-chair. “It’s a great way to support the families who work here.”

The firm’s managing partner, Sandra Seville-Jones is another member of the diversity committee. She says diversity is a high-priority and high-profile issue at MTO. In addition to the day-care center, the firm has more traditional diversity initiatives including strategies to recruit, retain and promote diverse employees. In 2010, 53 percent of attorneys hired by MTO were minorities or women. To retain, and advance women and minorities, the firm offers both formal and informal mentoring and networks to promote professional development.

The firm has also taken steps to increase the pipeline of students from diverse backgrounds who are applying to law school. MTO partners with For People of Color, Inc. to conduct an annual workshop for high school students where firm lawyers share their insights about the law school application process as well as their own law school experiences. For college graduates who plan to attend law school there is the MTO Fellows program which offers up to four full-time positions to students from diverse backgrounds.

MTO is of course excited about winning the Sager award for its commitment to diversity.

“It is a great honor for us,” Young says. “We’re always looking at how to apply best practices with regard to diversity, so we’re proud to be recognized for our efforts.”

CROWELL & MORING

 

MID-ATLANTIC

Monica Parham
Monica Parham

Crowell & Moring’s diversity tagline is “great minds think differently,” stating clearly that the firm respects and esteems different perspectives, histories and experiences. Sager award winner Crowell defines diversity broadly, encompassing race, sex, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, personal appearance, political affiliation, marital status, family responsibilities, disability and status as a veteran, as well as other personal characteristics protected by law and regulation.

“Diversity for us means the ability of employees to bring their authentic selves to the firm, and it goes to recruitment, retention and advancement,” says Monica Parham, the firm’s diversity counsel. “In addition, we value cultural competence.”

Parham adds that the firm can’t just take U.S. systems and transplant them oversees. In this context, cultural competence is the capacity to function effectively as an organization in cross-cultural situations, from understanding the nuances of language to thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups. Cultural competence is absolutely a requirement for a firm that operates globally, Parham says.

Crowell’s diversity council meets monthly and continues to help implement the firm’s strategic plan for increasing diversity. The plan addresses recruitment, retention, professional development, firm culture and education, mentoring, and outreach to the profession and community. Two to three times a year, there is a practice group debriefing process where practice group leaders talk about retention and professional development for women and minorities in the various practices.

Crowell also works to increase diversity in the pipeline. In Washington, D.C., the firm hosts a workshop for the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) to introduce minority, low-income and disadvantaged students to the law. The program focuses on how to choose a law school, how to navigate the process and law school admission test preparation, among other issues. Staff attorneys also tutor students at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School, D.C.’s first law-themed public charter high school.

Crowell’s leadership is in constant contact with the diversity council to keep abreast of the firm’s efforts as they move forward. The constant communication is key because diversity as an ongoing, multifaceted process.

“Diversity is a journey, not an event,” Parham says. “We still have work to do at our firm and in the legal profession overall.”

DAVIS POLK

 

NORTHEAST

Kathleen Ferrell
Kathleen Ferrell

“Davis Polk is a firm that has understood the power of diversity for a long time. Long before there was a name for it or an industry devoted to it, the firm has been committed to fostering an inclusive work environment,” says Kathleen Ferrell, the chair of the Diversity Committee for Davis Polk. In 1971 Davis Polk was one of the first “Wall Street” firms to elect a woman partner and decades later it was an original signatory to the 1991 Statement of Minority Goals. The firm has developed a reputation as one of the best places to work since its early days as a diversity leader. In addition to the 2010 Northeast Region Sager award, the firm received a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

“We are all about excellence. We understand that to be the best depends on our ability to attract the very best lawyers to Davis Polk and, consequently, the very best clients,” Ferrell explains. “It is absolutely true that the lawyers coming into the profession care a lot about diversity—whether they are a minority or not. Our clients care about diversity, too. So you have to take your cues from that, the marketplace. Very simply, it is a marketplace function.”

The firm attracts attorneys in a variety of ways. Davis Polk’s manager of legal recruiting and diversity oversees the firm’s diversity recruiting initiatives for lawyers and law students of color, as well as LGBT candidates. These initiatives include planning diversity receptions and events, attending diversity-focused job fairs, sponsoring law school events organized by minority student organizations, and advertising in minority law student association publications.

The key to sustaining a diverse work environment is to ensconce the ideals into the firm’s culture, Ferrell believes. “The best way to spur diversity is to make the business case. To help your partners understand two key points: that companies we represent care about diversity and want to work with firms that have cultures that are consistent with their own, and that young lawyers care a lot about diversity. Once you have done that, the ideas follow,” she says.

The road to success is long. Numbers don’t tell the whole story. Ultimately, Ferrell thinks, “We have arrived when we don’t have to talk about it. I think we are making a lot of strides. A lot of the things we have done in the name of diversity have been good—for everyone.” DB



From the November/December 2010 issue of  Diversity & The Bar®

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Source: "Generation Broke: The Growth of Debt among Young Americans."
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Source: "Generation Broke: The Growth of Debt among Young Americans."
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