The result? Over the past few years, Liu has seen definite advances. "The response generally has been very positive," he says. Still, he contends that firms need to go further. "There hasn't been enough improvement," says Liu, who vows to keep up the push for progress.
"Diversity is a marathon," says Liu. "If you view it as a sprint, you'll get disappointed, and burn out quickly."
Meanwhile, Liu also remains committed to keeping the legal department's diversity efforts moving forward. Thanks to the company's 2010 acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services Inc. (ACS), the department found itself overseeing a group of roughly 50 additional exACS lawyers. But apparently diversity wasn't as high a priority at ACS, because the group included comparatively few minorities and women. "It was substantially less diverse than we were, and lot less diverse than we wanted," recalls Liu, who says the fix was obvious. The group needed to widen its recruiting net, and begin hiring more diverse lawyers. "We've already seen an increase in diversity there," says Liu.
But Liu is quick to note that promoting diversity doesn't just mean posting better lawyer numbers. He believes it's also important to encourage in-house lawyers to get directly engaged on diversity-related issues. For some, that may mean working on the legal department's diversity committee. For others it might mean mentoring a minority law student or getting involved with a minority advocacy group like the NAACP or the Hispanic or LGBT bar.
That kind of extracurricular activity is good for the cause of diversity, says Liu. Plus, it tends to make for happier, more productive lawyers. "It's something that we try to recognize, and celebrate," says Liu.
General Counsel, American Airlines
As a nearly 30-year veteran of American Airlines's legal department, Gary Kennedy has witnessed the effort to build a more inclusive workplace firsthand. "We had what I considered to be a fairly active diversity program," says Kennedy.
Still, Kennedy believed that the department could do better. So after moving into the pilot's seat as general counsel in 2003, Kennedy decided to step up the effort. And it shows. Over the past decade, roughly two-thirds of new attorney hires at the Fort Worth, Texasbased company have been women, and about half have been minorities. The result? Of the department's 31 lawyers, 10 are women, and eight are persons of color. Moreover, in the past five years, women and minority lawyers have won a majority of the department's promotions.
"We've made it abundantly clear that we welcome all people," says Kennedy, 57, who notes that the department has also made a point of broadening the definition of diversity to include the LGBT community and now includes four openly gay attorneys.
Kennedy firmly believes that creating a work environment where differences are valued and people are free to be themselves leads to better job performance and higher-quality legal work. Plus, he says, having a diverse legal staff "sends the right message" to the wider community and can only boost the company's public image and help build brand loyalty.
Along with building a more inclusive legal department, Kennedy has also tried to do his part to help promote diversity in the outside counsel world. One example: the department's ongoing effort to give more work to smaller women- and minority-owned law firms. Indeed, in 2011, the department spent roughly $2.3 million on legal services from nearly two dozen minority- or women-owned vendors, up from just $1.2 million in 2004.
At the same time, Kennedy and other department managers have been pressing the bigger firms they use to put more diverse lawyers, and especially more diverse partners, on American's matters. "We've been pounding them pretty hard," says Kennedy, who notes that the department regularly reviews billings from those firms to see who's doing the work.