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Though diversity has been a hot topic at law firms for more than a decade, the percentage of minority and women attorneys remains low. Now Sara Lee Corp.’s Roderick Palmore is calling on his fellow general counsel to turn up the heat. He’s asking them to sign a letter in which they pledge to give more business to firms with a good diversity record-and fire those that don’t. Palmore’s manifesto, which he began circulating this summer, is a follow-up to the so-called Morgan letter. In 1999, Charles Morgan, then the general counsel of BellSouth Corp., wrote a “Diversity Statement of Principle” in which he urged law firms (and corporate law departments) to hire more women and minorities. Slightly more than 500 GCs have since signed the Morgan letter, which commits them to give “significant weight to a firm’s commitment and progress” toward diversity when selecting outside counsel. But the letter is silent on what to do about firms that aren’t diverse. Upping the ante, Palmore calls on GCs to dole out legal work based on firms’ diversity. His letter said that companies should give more business to outside counsel that “positively distinguish themselves in this area.” Most importantly, the new letter calls on signatories to “end or limit” their relationship with firms that show “a lack of meaningful interest in being diverse.” Palmore explained, “The objective here is to get GCs to commit to action.” At press time, he planned to start officially circulating the letter in August by e-mail and regular mail. He’s already picked up the signatures of 35 GCs in the predistribution stage, including Jose de Lasa at Abbott Laboratories, Douglas Bain at The Boeing Co., Richard Ziegler at 3M Co. and Catherine Lamboley at Shell Oil Co. Palmore’s effort is also backed by the American Bar Association, the Association of Corporate Counsel and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA). A diversity ’747′ Even though the Palmore letter would appear to supersede the Morgan letter, Charles Morgan said he fully supports the new initiative. The former BellSouth legal chief said, “I want diversity to look like a 747 on law firms’ [radar], as opposed to a Piper Cub.” Morgan left BellSouth in July. Palmore explains the need for a new diversity declaration in the introduction to his letter. He noted that “objective assessments” show that law firm diversity has “reached a disappointing plateau.” According to statistics from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), minorities composed 4% of partners at law firms in 2003; women comprise 16.8%. Firms are doing better in the lower ranks-minorities make up 14.6% of associates; women, 43%. But among both partners and associates, NALP reports that the percentage of women and minorities has increased very slowly over the past five years. MCCA Executive Director Veta Richardson believes these statistics show that general counsel need to put more pressure on law firms. “It is time for a wake-up call,” Richardson said. “Palmore’s letter is a natural next step.”

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