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It’s been a banner year for minority GCs. Seven of the nation’s Fortune500 companies opted for diversity in their choice of top lawyer, including such heavy hitters as Dole Food Co. Inc., McDonald’s Corp. and Sara Lee Corp., according to a recent survey from the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. That brings the total number of minority chief legal officers at major companies to 21 — a stunning increase from 18 months ago, when there were just seven such GCs, total. Why the sudden surge? Veta Richardson, Washington, D.C.-based MCCA’s executive director, says that increased emphasis on diversity — coupled with changing demographics — have made corporate America “more comfortable” seeing minorities in top legal slots. Grassroots efforts such as roundtables, lawyer mentoring and other active outreach programs have helped, too. “These programs don’t just draw diversity into the spotlight,” Richardson says. “They create real opportunities for individuals.” It also helps, says Richardson, that “these people are stars.” She points to the new crop’s impressive credentials, adding that many of the new appointees give back to the diversity movement by volunteering their time and energy. One case in point is Wayne Budd, the African-American general counsel and executive vice president of John Hancock Financial Services Inc. Throughout a career that has included positions as Massachusetts’ chief federal prosecutor; an associate U.S. attorney general under the first President Bush; and, most recently, group president of Bell Atlantic-New England, Budd has worked as an avid mentor and community leader. He says diversity efforts must go beyond the workplace. “You have to target both the public and private sector [to promote minorities to leadership roles],” Budd says. He adds that it’s “not enough” to sensitize organizations: “You need to develop a critical mass of leaders.” Looking ahead, Budd and Richardson anticipate a continued rise in the minority GC ranks. “Diversity makes an awful lot of sense from a business perspective,” Budd says, noting that companies are becoming more aware of the practical benefits of having a legal staff with whom customers and clients identify. Although she is “delighted” by the new numbers, Richardson cautions that “much more work needs to be done.” After all, 21 might seem like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket among the Fortune500. Related chart

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