Though Kennedy has seen some progress, he's quick to add that there's still a long way to go. "We try to send a clear consistent message," says Kennedy, and make sure they know that diversity is a factor in the decision making about who gets work. But so far that hasn't helped move the needle enough.
A common refrain from law firms, of course, is that there aren't enough good minority candidates out there to hire. Under Kennedy, American's in-house lawyers have been working to fix that problem.
Since 2005, it has been running a mentoring program for minority law students from Texas Wesleyan and Southern Methodist University. It also offers minority law students summer internships.
As Kennedy sees it, it's all about giving those students opportunities they otherwise might not get.
For students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not know any working lawyers, getting good mentoring or a good internship can be a life-changing experience, says Kennedy. "It opens their eyes to things that they haven't seen before," he adds, "and can make a world of difference to their success."
General Counsel, Office Depot Inc.
Elisa Garcia has spent much of her legal career making diversity happen. As an in-house counsel for Philip Morris International in the mid-1990s, she was an energetic participant in a mentoring program for minority law students. Then, after shifting to the general counsel slot at Domino's Pizza Inc. a few years later, she helped launch a groundbreaking initiative to boost the pizza giant's minority franchisees.
"I've always believed that you've got to be aggressive," says Garcia, 55.
That said, Garcia recalls being pleasantly surprised when she took the helm of Office Depot's legal department in mid-2007. Almost half of the department's then 17 U.S.based lawyers were womena reflection, says Garcia, of the Boca Raton, Floridabased company's strong commitment to fostering diversity. "It's something that flows from the top," she says.
Garcia hasn't let up on that effort. Today, a little over five years after her arrival, women make up about 60 percent of Office Depot's legal team, and the department, which has stepped up its recruitment of both gay and minority attorneys, is more diverse. One recent hire: an African American woman and former Pace University law student whom Garcia had mentored back in her Philip Morris days.
Garcia firmly believes that having a broad mix of backgrounds and perspectives on the legal team has tangible benefits. "With diverse views, you get better decision making," she says. "I think it makes for better lawyering."
To help ensure that inclusiveness stays on the department's radar, Garcia notes that at the start of every year, she asks every in-house lawyer to come up with his or her own diversity-related project. The guidelines aren't strict. As Garcia notes, those initiatives can range from working on a pro bono matter for a social services group in the minority community to attending minority counsel association events or participating, as Garcia recently did, in a program put on by the LGBT Chamber of Commerce.