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More than 100 general counsel of Fortune 500 companies and managing partners of U.S. law firms are convening next month in an effort to come up with specific ways to improve diversity in the legal profession. The moves are part of a two-day event called the Call to Action (CTA) Summit, which takes place on April 25 and 26 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Keynote speakers include former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “The goal is to have a collaborative discussion between the general counsels and the managing partners about what we can do to move the needle on this issue,” said Roderick Palmore, executive vice president, general counsel and chief compliance and risk management officer at General Mills Inc., who wrote Call to Action in 2004. Call to Action outlines goals for corporations to follow in order to improve diversity in their own offices and in the law firms they hire, focusing on gender, race and sexual orientation. About 90 general counsel have signed Call To Action, including those from The Boeing Co., Prudential Financial Inc., Microsoft Corp., Johnson & Johnson, Tyson Foods Inc., The Coca-Cola Co. and Bank of America Corp. In moving more aggressively toward specific goals, Call to Action is attempting to address a growing problem. Last year, for example, women made up less than 33% of lawyers employed in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Blacks made up less than 5%, Asians 2.6% and Hispanics 4.3%. “The statistics speak for themselves,” Palmore said. “They say our progress in the profession has been disappointing.” Call to Action is the second major nationwide effort at improving diversity in the legal profession. About a decade ago, the American Bar Association worked with Charles Morgan, then general counsel of BellSouth Corp., to come up with another initiative called, “Diversity in the Workplace: A Statement of Principle,” which was signed by hundreds of general counsel. “My frustration with the Statement of Principle is that not much happened,” Palmore said. Call to Action, he said, has “more teeth.” Most importantly, Call To Action states that corporations should end relationships with law firms that haven’t made significant progress in becoming more diverse. That means making some sacrifices, said Susan Hackett, senior vice president and general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel, who has been involved in Call To Action. “While they may be committing to diversity principles, that’s a difficult decision when talking about firms that have done good work for you,” she said. Also, general counsel could feel hypocritical judging the diversity of the law firms they use if they haven’t made substantial progress in their own law departments, she said.

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