Should Companies Demand Diversity from their Outside Counsel

by Vault Law Editors | March 24, 2011

  • My Vault

Is the diversity of your law firm important to your clients? If they’re anything like Wal-Mart (or if Wal-Mart is one of your clients), it is. The retail giant is taking a dive for diversity, demanding “a say in deciding which firm lawyers get origination credit for Wal-Mart work.” Wal-Mart hopes to push greater minority retention at law firms and seeks to include minorities as main contacts for law firm clients.

Veta Richardson, Executive Director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association ("MCCA") and future president and CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel, described Wal-Mart’s move as a “forward-thinking, progressive step.” But some law firms aren’t so sure about Wal-Mart's request. Trenton H. Norris, a partner at Arnold & Porter, told the Daily Journal that “Firms have always thought of their own firm’s credit allocation system as internal.” Norris further explains, “Wal-Mart’s position is laudable in trying to do something concrete to promote diversity in the profession, but the resistance to it is understandable.”

So should clients intervene to make sure their counsel is up to snuff when it comes to diversity? Law firms need to be able to control their own operations, of course. But isn’t part of customer service considering the requests of your clients? Perhaps Wal-Mart’s intervention can serve as a signal to firms that clients are paying attention to diversity. But how do firms show that they’re committed? One step would be to get involved with MCCA’s Law Firm Affiliate Network (“FAN”), which MCCA developed “to assist and acknowledge law firms that are committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.”

Law firms who join FAN must adhere to its 10 Basic Principles (one of which is completing the Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity survey) “which MCCA research has determined to be hallmarks to advancing diversity.” In turn, law firms will receive numerous benefits including use of the FAN logo, inclusion on the list of FAN firms (which is sent to MCCA member companies), access to diversity resources, free access to resumes, an opportunity to include profiles of the firms’ diverse attorneys in MCCA’s online directory, and more.

I do think clients should be concerned about their law firms’ diversity. I also think firms need to employ diversity practices in ways that work for them. Joining a network like FAN is one way to integrate diversity planning into your firm’s internal decision-making and development while also showing clients that you are committed to a diverse workforce.

Wall Street Journal Blog Source
MCCA’S Law Firm Affiliate Network
FAN’s 10 Basic Principles
FAN Benefits
Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Database

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Filed Under: Law

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