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Atlanta—Law firms that pack their lower ranks with minorities and women while leaving white men in charge are about to find Wal-Mart a tough customer. The nation’s biggest retailer wants to see diversity at the top. The company’s general counsel has told its top 100 law firms that at least one person of color and one woman must be among the top five relationship attorneys that handle its business. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. General Counsel Thomas Mars made the announcement recently at an Atlanta conference on legal diversity. Top lawyers at Visa International, Del Monte, Pitney Bowes and Cox Communications also said they have begun requiring outside counsel to demonstrate that there are substantive numbers of women and minority lawyers in the upper levels of their firms. $142M in business Mars, whose department spends about $200 million a year on outside legal services, said he realized he had to do something when he saw that 82 of the top 100 relationship partners handling the company’s business are white men. Those firms receive $142 million of the company’s business, with individual firms’ fees ranging from $350,000 to $13 million. The goal, said Wal-Mart’s associate general counsel, Samuel M. Reeves, is to “increase the number of women and minorities directly responsible for the Wal-Mart relationship at our law firms.” Mars, Reeves and the other GCs were participants in the fourth annual Symposium on Diversity in the Legal Profession, organized by the Atlanta Legal Diversity Consortium. The move by Wal-Mart appeared to answer two of the big questions posed at the symposium that drew about 400 lawyers from around the country: Do general counsel at large companies consider the number of women and minority lawyers employed by outside counsel when deciding whom to hire-and will they move business away from firms that remain overwhelmingly white and male? That prospect has become serious since Sara Lee’s top lawyer, Roderick A. Palmore, issued a “call to action” last year warning that he and the other signatories would consider a firm’s diversity when hiring outside counsel. So far, close to 100 general counsel have signed on, including those from some of the nation’s biggest companies. [NLJ, March 28]. Wal-Mart’s move, sent in a letter to outside counsel last month, upped the ante. Once the retailing giant gets lists of attorneys from its outside firms, due in mid-July, it will start weeding accordingly, Mars said. “We’ll be making more decisions to retain and terminate firms [at that point],” he said.

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