Inclusion Initiative Spotlights Minority and Women Outside Counsel
Looking for a way to increase outside counsel diversity, the Inclusion Initiative started with 11 companies looking to spend $30 million on legal services provided by minority- and women-owned (MWBE) law firms, and has grown exponentially since it launched in 2010, with 25 corporations now pledging to spend $139 million at MWBE firms in 2012.
The initiative came about after a 2004 study commissioned by DuPont found that since the late 1980s, the number of successful minority-owned law firms serving corporate America had decreased significantly.
In its third year, the initiatives members include such corporate heavy-hitters as AT&T, JPMorgan Chase, Macys, Prudential, UPS, Bank of America, General Mills, and Xerox. In the efforts first two years, more than $140 million has been spent on counsel from MWBE firms. Initiative member companies pledged to spend $139 million this year alone, according to a June 19 statement.
Final numbers are not yet available on how much has been spent for far in 2012, but members of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) are working on assembling the data, said Pariss Coleman, a NAMWOLF member and civil litigation lawyer at Cooper & Kowalski, a women-owned law firm in Toledo, Ohio.
The MWBE firms tend to be smaller than other law firms, and because of that they can often provide more cost-effective outside counsel, according to Richard Meade, Prudentials vice president and chief legal officer for international businesses.
Prudential was one of the first corporations involved with the initiative, says Meade. The company teamed up with DuPont after the 2004 report, and once they got 11 willing companies to join them, the formal program launched in 2010.
Inclusion Initiative works closely with NAMWOLF, which is comprised of more than 100 firms in 33 states, to identify firms that meet the needs of Inclusion Initiative companies.
Shell Oil Company joined the initiative in the programs second year. Leaders at Shell figured out a long time ago that diverse teams create the best results, says Cisselon Nichols Hurd, senior litigation counsel for the company. That idea had carried over from management to the legal side, and Shell had already been making efforts to hire outside counsel from minority and women-owned law firms, she explained.
In 2011, MWBE firms made up about 17 percent of Shells outside counsel spend, Hurd said. The company is on track to meet or exceed that percentage for 2012, she added.
For Prudentials legal needs, MWBE law firms account for between five and 10 percent of qualified outside counsel in the United States, Meade says. The percentage continues to increase each year. The company maintains its own list of firmstheres about 60 in the queuethat theyve either already used or are planning to use for future legal work.
We use firms to handle a lot of our insurance litigation, to advise us on employment and labor matters, or to help us with contracts, Meade says. We have a lot of different legal needs, and many of them the minority- and women-owned firms can meet.
Although Meade says the initiatives $139 million target is a lofty goal, part of the purpose of the program is to raise awareness and to demonstrate to other large corporations that the MWBE firms can meet their law departments needs. In turn, lawyers feel as though working in a MWBE law firm is a viable career option.
Its a win-win, says Meade.