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In-house counsel demand diversity, but firms say they’ve done the work, now “Show me the money”

|Written By Jennifer Brown
In-house counsel demand diversity, but firms say they’ve done the work, now “Show me the money”

Law firms may be getting “diversity fatigue” when it comes to meeting the requirements set out by the general counsel looking to hire them, but there’s still a lot of work to be done according to a panel of in-house lawyers speaking in Toronto this past weekend.

“It’s been an interesting evolution here in Canada. My experience is that the law firms here are not where the U.S. firms south of us are at when it comes to diversity. I think they are just starting to understand what diversity means in the profession here in Canada,” said Terrie-Lynne Devonish, chief counsel for AON Canada Inc. “Some firms have taken bigger steps than others, but I think most firms are just starting to recognize the importance of diversity.”

And the next step may be for in-house counsel to use scorecard analytics to keep track of what law firms are doing to create a diverse workforce according to the panel Devonish was a part of entitled: General Counsel with International Issues: What’s on Their Minds? The panel was held Aug. 6 as part of the American Bar Association’s annual meeting.

Devonish said in-house counsel can play a significant role in the diversity conversation with law firms because their own organizations are often well ahead of the firms in promoting diverse workplaces. “From my own experience at AON there is a huge diversity program both within the organization and with key suppliers and that includes the law firms we use around the world,” she said.

In 2008, AON did an RFP for a preferred firm program and asked what the firms had done to increase diversity in their organizations. “Some firms would call and ask ‘What do you want from me?’ and it opened up the dialogue,” said Devonish.

Since then Devonish and her department have worked with firms to look at initiatives such as mentorship programs, secondments and sessions with young lawyers in the firms. She noted that initiatives currently underway in Canada that were spearheaded by in-house counsel lawyers to help promote diversity include A Call to Action Canada and Legal Leaders in Diversity, which has seen 55 senior corporate counsel sign on to the program.

Michele Coleman Mayes, executive vice president and general counsel of Allstate Insurance in Northbrook, Il., serves on the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity started two years ago in the U.S., which was created to accelerate diversity in the legal profession. Lawyers from companies such as Walmart and Microsoft sit on the council and the focus is on diversity as well as inclusion.

“You can really wind me on up this topic,” said Coleman Mayes. “This has been a key initiative at Allstate for a long time. Diversity is about getting numbers in the door and inclusion is having the people at the table with a voice.” Several initiatives at Allstate, including an internship program, have been used to get minorities and women into the legal department faster.

“We also have metrics both internally and externally. We just rolled out a diversity scorecard, which is an intense scorecard that was sent to 10 of our law firms. It does an analysis both quantitatively and qualitatively. It says: What does your law firm look like holistically and what does it look like on the Allstate account?” explained Colman Mayes. “We ask about equity partners and non-equity partners. We ask for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) and we ask for people with reduced hours because women tend to be more impacted if they can’t work reduced hours to get to partnership.”

The Allstate scorecard was rolled out June 1 and responses were due June 30. Both Allstate and the individual firms are now analyzing the responses, scoring them and then it will be decided how big the divide is and how things will go forward.

Panel moderator Richard Horwitz of Potter Anderson & Corroon in Wilmington, Del., asked Coleman Mayes what the repercussions would be for firms that want to do business with Allstate but fail to demonstrate a diverse slate of lawyers. “My experience is most big firms don’t get it until somebody hits them in the face with it,” said Horwitz.

Coleman Mayes acknowledged that for the firms, it often comes down to the almighty buck and whether they will get the work after answering to all the diversity questions.

“Yes, I know everybody wants to see the public hanging,” said Colman Mayes. “You will see some cynicism or diversity fatigue among law firms and they have every right to be a bit jaded by this, and they are holding the corporate counsel’s feet to the fire saying, ‘Be clear about what you want and let’s set some expectations.’ Some of the comments have included, ‘I’ve done what was asked of me but I have yet to see enough business.’ That is probably going to be the litmus test: Where is the money?” said Coleman Mayes.

And while they aren’t conducting “public hangings,” Allstate is telling firms they lost business because they weren’t diverse enough. “I have called up law firms and told them where they could do better and lo and behold when we have that conversation, miraculously, talented people appear who were already there. So I think it’s just forward thinking that will get us there, but it has to be measured,” she said.


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