"We do it because it's the right thing, it's the best thing that's going to make us a better law department and company. We get better results when we have a diverse team working for us. If I get people who really come at it from different ways and walks of life and things that they have experienced, we get a much richer and more creative and innovative result."
– Bill Lytton
Many years ago, when Bill Lytton, senior vice president and general counsel at International Paper (IP), answered the call to the legal profession, little did he know that his efforts and hard work would lead him to become a champion of causes. A consummate professional, after 28 years in the legal profession, he has made significant strides in the world of corporate law. But today, as chief legal officer, Lytton is doing his best work ever, directing a team of smart, dedicated, savvy attorneys, who are spearheading the company's efforts to promote diversity within the organization.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 1998, IP is the largest paper and forest products company in the world. With global headquarters located in Stamford, Conn., the company has operations in nearly 50 countries, employs more than 113,000 people, and exports its products to more than 130 nations. IP lists its stock on six exchanges internationally and has global operations located primarily in Asia, Canada, Europe and Latin America.
In 1999, when President Bill Clinton issued a "Call to Action" to the legal profession, urging lawyers to increase pro bono services and diversity within the profession, Bill Lytton was already one step ahead. IP's legal department had already established the Partnering With Outside Counsel Task Team, charged with examining the department's relationship with outside counsel.
At the department's annual conference in October of that year, a gathering of all of the organization's paralegals and lawyers, Lytton stressed his commitment to the president's call, strongly urging and seeking the support of the group. Clearly something that everyone wanted to focus on, the challenge he presented was accepted, and the department's Diversity Task Team was formed as an offshoot of the Partnering With Outside Counsel Task Team, whose focus is to enhance opportunities in the profession for minorities and women.
Reporting to Lytton, the Diversity Task Team's goal was to promote diversity by actively seeking opportunities that directly impact diversity initiatives in the legal profession. The team began the process by surveying 50 of the primary law firms with whom they do at least 90 percent of their business and encouraging those firms to develop and implement effective diversity practices.
Monica Andrews, counsel for the printing and communications papers division at IP's operating headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., served as the task team's chair during 1999 and 2000. She is credited with developing the critical survey, which, according to Lytton, "may have caused the law firms to look at the issue with more urgency than they might have." A graduate of the University of Notre Dame School of Law and six-year veteran at IP, she and her team members not only turned to these law firms for answers, but also looked for ways to impact diversity initiatives throughout the company itself, the community, and the profession at large.
During 2000, the department participated in minority job fairs, such as the Southeast Minority Job Fair in Atlanta, one of the largest fairs in the nation. They also joined MCCA, interviewed at the National Bar Association (NBA) Conference, and assisted with IP's Minority Business Development Conference (MBDC).
The company's MBDC has certainly made a difference to the organization. Not only does it give IP an opportunity to interview various minority firms and businesses, but it also gives firms and businesses an opportunity to look at IP. "I think our businesses were not aware of all the minority suppliers that were out there, and this conference brings them to the attention of our purchasing managers, gets people introduced to each other, and then basically lets them show each other what they can do for our diversity efforts," says Andrews.
The legal department's participation at the MBDC includes providing training for small business owners who do not have their own legal staff. Additionally, department members have also provided training in various areas such as tax, antitrust, and employment law.
Another initiative was Law Day 2000, an annual event held on May 1 at Coleman Elementary School in Memphis, Tenn. Here, the goal is to serve as role models to young students and to present the law as a career choice to minorities. Last year, IP's efforts on the diversity front helped McGuireWoods, one of the 30 largest law firms in the nation, earn the department's distinguished Lighthouse Award, which is given to law firms for their work in promoting diversity in the profession.
According to Andrews, "The Diversity Task Team's growth over the past two years has steadily been on the rise. The legal department's activities have raised awareness of the team's efforts company-wide. I'd like to see the team continue to keep on doing the things we've worked on. I certainly don't want to see the momentum drop."
IP litigation counsel Janice Innis-Thompson is the task team's new chair for 2001. A graduate of the University of Florida Law School, Innis-Thompson truly exemplifies Lytton's vision for IP and the legal profession. Of Caribbean heritage, female and minority, Innis-Thompson has been with IP for only three and a half years. But like her predecessor, Andrews, under Lytton's tutelage, she is making her mark—continuing the work to pave the way and open doors for others.
Specific task team goals and activities for 2001 included career talks by members of the legal department at the local high school and minority colleges, and working with the IP Foundation to sponsor a legal position at a nonprofit organization.
Last year, team member John McEwan worked with the IP Foundation to secure a $5,000 grant to the University of Memphis Law School for the department's new Minority Student Mentoring Program. The grant, to be used for a professional development program, will enable approximately 20 minority students at the School of Law to engage in pro bono public or community service projects.
The grant will help fund a program in which law students participate in discussion sessions with lawyers and judges in the Memphis community. It will also help develop relations with the young lawyers in the Memphis community who will serve as mentors to the students.
Additionally, Innis-Thompson assisted in the production of a video that outlined the legal department's diversity initiatives. The video serves as an informational tool for the department's participation at events such as the MCCA and NBA conferences and various job fairs that members of the team attend on behalf of the department.
Innis-Thompson's team is also partnering with local companies to work on diversity initiatives, including the recruitment and promotion of minority candidates, while expanding their focus to include local community organizations and bar associations.
"Working with the Diversity Task Team has been a tremendous boost and has offered tremendous growth in my own career," she says. "Since the beginning of the year, the projects that I have worked on for the corporation have been big, giving me an opportunity to really prove my skills and showcase my talent." The team will also continue to monitor the diversity efforts of IP's key primary law firms and encourage cross-development on diversity issues between departments at the company.
Rhynette Hurd, counsel for information technology and the legal department's knowledge manager at IP, is also a major player in the team's efforts. A graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law and a member of the team since its inception, she is extremely hands-on and is actively involved in many of the initiatives put forth by the group.
In 2000, when IP joined MCCA, Hurd participated in the organization's strategic planning focus group, resulting in the team being interviewed by MCCA for publication of their diversity practices, which is still considered among the best.
Along with Innis-Thompson, Hurd also attends the various minority job fairs that IP participates in, interviewing and identifying potential candidates for the organization's internship program. "The Minority Internship Program is our method of enhancing the representation of minorities within our department and providing opportunities that will enhance the resumes and the experiences of minority law students," says Hurd. She is confident that IP's minority internship program, and the experience that it affords its candidates, is a primary reason that many of its graduates are placed in wellrespected law firms.
Indeed, IP's Diversity Task Team's efforts are making such a difference in the profession that it was recently chosen as the recipient of the National Bar Association Commercial Law Section's 2001 Corporate Award and selected a 2001 "Employer of Choice" by MCCA.
Additionally, the National Bar Association Award recognized IP's role as sponsor of a new website for the Commercial Law Section. The coveted MCCA award, which was presented to the department in October 2001 at the MCCA's 2nd annual conference, is an honor bestowed upon industry leaders who are committed to and succeed at creating and maintaining an inclusive corporate legal department. It is based on the MCCA's concept behind the Creating Pathways to Diversity Research Project, a three-year effort to study how corporate law departments and law firms design, implement, and monitor their diversity progress.
Seemingly overnight, Lytton and his team changed the face of the law at this major, international corporate giant. His vision for his department and IP as a whole, is one that will be representative of the population at large, one in which attorneys truly represent the diversity of the country. "We do it because it's the right thing, it's the best thing that's going to make us a better law department and company," he says. "We get better results when we have a diverse team working for us. If I get people who really come at it from different ways and walks of life and things that they have experienced, we get a much richer and more creative and innovative result. I think it's terrific," said Lytton.
Donna Dick is a freelance writer who works in the corporate communications department at BLACK ENTERPRISE Magazine.
From the December 2001 issue of Diversity & The Bar®