The legal departments of some the country’s largest companies are committing more than $30 million in work this year to minorityand women-owned law firms. Termed the “Inclusion Initiative,” the proposal is the brainchild of Susan Blount, senior vice president and general counsel of Prudential, who relied on her network to build the base of companies. Joining Prudential among the heavy-hitting companies to join the Inclusion Initiative are Accenture, American Airlines, Comcast, DuPont, Exelon, General Mills, GlaxoSmithKline, and Microsoft, with many more companies expected to join soon.
These companies will partner with the National Association of Minority and Women-Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF), an organization committed to developing relationships between preeminent minority- and women-owned firms and private and public entities. (For more information about NAMWOLF, please see the “Association Focus” department of D&B’s September/October 2009 issue, p. 50.) Founded in 2001, the organization now has seventyeight member firms.
“This is a terrific initiative, and I have to praise Susan for her creativity because it is essentially independent companies working together, and that’s not always an easy thing to accomplish,” remarks Karen L. Giffen, a member of NAMWOLF’s Board of Directors. “Forty-six percent of our [member] firms do not do business with Fortune 1,000 companies, and this is the beginning of a change.”
The organizers of this initiative hope that the $30 million represented by this commitment is just the start of a new trend for minority- and women-owned law firms. “We are hoping that the Inclusion Initiative has a tremendous ripple effect by bringing in more companies and firms,” Blount shares. “Not only do we want these firms to have a ‘piece of the pie,’ we want the pie to keep getting bigger and bigger. We want to create energy around this endeavor. It will elevate firms’ profiles and generate more business to them. We are having fun doing the right thing by making our profession mirror society.
“Commitment to diversity starts at the top,” she adds. “The companies who have joined together to form the Inclusion Initiative are excited to be part of the solution to the diversity challenge in the legal profession. The Inclusion Initiative will help others realize that some of the best lawyers in the profession are at minority- and women-owned firms, and these law firms offer cost-effective, high-quality, and creative legal services.”
NAMWOLF members are thrilled about the initiative. “It is exciting to see companies ‘stepping up to the plate financially,’” explains Cheryl Bush, a partner at the woman-owned firm of Bush Seyferth & Paige, a firm that is a first-year member of the association. “NAMWOLF is the real deal. We have ten lawyers in our Troy, Michigan, office that focus on litigating all over the country. Because we are based in Michigan, a lot of our work was tied to major automotive manufacturer, and when the company went bankrupt, we needed to focus on expanding our client base. Fortunately, through NAMWOLF, we have generated new business with other excellent clients, including Accenture and Valeo, Inc.”
“It truly is terrific to see an outward commitment of Fortune 500 companies to diversity and inclusion,” adds Erinn DePorre, another attorney with the firm. “It shows accountability at the top.”
One of the pioneers of the diversity movement is Thomas L. Sager, DuPont Company’s general counsel and an MCCA board member. “A study commissioned by DuPont found a marked drop since the late 1980s in the number of successful minority-owned law firms serving corporate America,” he remarks. “The mission of the Inclusion Initiative is to put more minority- and women-owned law firms on a path towards growth and prosperity, and to provide greater opportunities for diverse lawyers.” “DuPont in particular has done a lot to bring the focus to diversity,” notes Richard Amador, the Inclusion Initiative task force chair for NAMWOLF who also serves on the MCCA board of directors. “These pioneering companies are already increasing spending with minority and women owned law firms. It has a real impact, and inspires other companies. We want to see a snowball effect as these firms increase their capabilities and other companies shift their spending to diverse law firms.” DB
Joshua H. Shields is the editorial assistant for Diversity & the Bar.
From the May/June 2010 issue of Diversity & The Bar®