170 top company lawyers tell law firms to up their diversity game—or else

There’s one measure that corporations best their law firms: diversity. And the general counsel and chief legal officers of 170 companies are making it clear that this situation cannot last much longer, sending a letter to law firms that they’ve got to boltster their so-far limp efforts to bring more diversity into firm ranks, including top partnership rosters. The letter, by a LinkedIn group called “General Counsel for Law Firm Diversity,” brings to mind an incident of a few years ago. At a black-tie awards dinner in New York, Microsoft’s top lawyer Brad Smith was given an award for his legal team. And instead of a bland speech thanking his talented crew, Smith lit into the assembled dignitaries, criticizing them for being a mostly white, privileged caste. The audience sat there looking uncomfortable, probably hoping that the speech would end soon so that they could again hear comforting praise of the profession.

“We expect the outside law firms we retain to reflect the diversity of the legal community and the companies and the customers we serve. We applaud those firms that have worked hard to hire, retain, and promote to partnership this year outstanding and highly accomplished lawyers who are diverse in race, color, age, gender, gender orientation, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, and without regard to disabilities,” the 170 in-house chiefs say early on. But then, “At the same time, we are disappointed to see that many law firms continue to promote partner classes that in no way reflect the demographic composition of entering associate classes. Partnership classes remain largely male and largely white.” Finally, they say, “It is not enough to commit your firm to diversity during the recruiting process or to hire a diversity and inclusion officer and expect that person can effect change without the full commitment of each member of the firm. Instead, the reality is that you must consciously and personally invest in diversity and inclusion and interview, hire, mentor, support, sponsor, and promote talented attorneys who don’t always look like you or share your background.”

Among the signatories are: Fleur Knowsley, Acting General Counsel & Compliance Lead, Google Fiber Inc.; Jill Simeone, General Counsel & Secretary, Etsy, Inc.; Joyce E. Johnson, General Counsel, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary, Addivant USA, LLC; Karla L. Jarvis, SVP, General Counsel & Secretary, The Rockport Company, LLC;Kevin Vosen, Chief Legal Officer, Waymo; Lauren S. Fisher, Chief Legal Officer, Vox Media, Inc.; Nancy Gardner, Chief Legal Officer, S&P Global Ratings; and Yoko Miyashita, SVP, General Counsel, Getty Images, Inc.. This group is one to watch; scanning their ranks, it’s notable that a large percentage work at digital, high-tech and new media companies.

You can find the entire letter and list of signatories here.

—Anthony Paonita

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