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No one would mistake the legal guardians of corporate America for misty-eyed social crusaders. But Charles Morgan of BellSouth Corp. in Atlanta is using his general counsel pulpit to rattle the status quo. In 1999 he authored a manifesto of sorts — “Diversity in the Workplace: A Statement of Principle” — challenging law firms to employ more minorities and women. At last count, some 385 corporations had signed the statement. But he didn’t stop there: In late 2001, he started asking law firms for hard numbers, like the percentage of BellSouth billables attributable to minority and women lawyers. What’s more, he’s keeping score on the total number of women and minorities at the firms used by the Baby Bell. To keep the pressure on, he’s also asked these 200 or so firms to submit updates on these issues every six months. And, of course, he’s enlisting other big companies to join the bandwagon. Corporate Counsel‘s associate editor Vivia Chen asked Morgan whether the diversity drive was about more than just smart PR. Corporate Counsel: You are white, male, Southern and very much part of the corporate establishment. Why are you pushing diversity? Charles Morgan: I see it very much as a business issue. I don’t think shareholders of BellSouth are paying my salary for me to air my personal views of what society should look at. The diversity issue wraps up so many things about social justice. But at heart it is a business issue. And diversity is good for business. CC: What does diversity have to do with the bottom line? CM: In the competitive environment we work in today, a company can’t have a large segment of its workforce feeling that it doesn’t matter. It’s also in the company’s self-interest to have all its workforce fully engaged. Imagine if 30 percent of your workers were black or Hispanic. Would you want them to feel like it’s a good place to be or that we just tolerate them because legally we have to? … The happier people are, the more successful the company will be. SAY IT WITH NUMBERS CC: You started by asking firms politely to put diversity on the front burner, but now you want them to show you numbers. Why? CM: The statement of principle is great, but it’s rhetorical and aspirational … . In corporations, people say what gets measured gets done. Numbers are just a focal point to give you something to talk about, but they’re not the beginning or end of the conversation. But if law firms know we’re looking at numbers, they’ll be more focused on the issues. Lawyers are good at making pretty words, but numbers don’t lie. This is not just a statistical exercise; the debate is also important. CC: Would you really fire a firm with a lousy diversity record that’s been doing great work for you? CM: One of the law firms asked me that question, and I said, “Does your firm want to be the first to find out whether we’re serious or not?” The answer is yes, absolutely. TRUE BELIEVERS? CC: Do your fellow GCs share your views, or do they see diversity as good PR? CM: I don’t think it’s at all a matter of PR. This is a serious, tough, important issue, and these people [GCs] are busy and substantive. You don’t hear [them saying] it’s just fluff. No one is saying, “There’s Morgan with his liberal cause.” I’ve been surprised by the degree it’s struck a chord with people. When I started the [statement of principle] letter, I didn’t know whether six companies or 600 would sign on. CC: Are firms resentful of your demands? CM: No, not at all. They’re saying all the right things. But I think as the clients we have to do more to help them and not to judge them … . It’s a complicated process. Law firms view the quality of their legal work as the key to their success and franchise. And we’re saying we don’t see any conflict at all in terms of keeping the standard of excellence [high] and working on diversity. IT’S THE MONEY, STUPID CC: What makes you think law firms will change? CM: If law firms see that their clients are pushing on it [diversity], they’ll change their priorities. Look, if you have 12 GCs of the biggest 12 companies telling you that diversity is important, and that we want more minorities and women working on our matters, you’ll listen — unless you’re brain-dead. CC: Speaking of leverage, how much do you spend on legal fees? CM: I can’t tell you. Let’s just say it’s big … . We have a large budget and a lot of lawyers — around 200 lawyers. It’s a big company with sales approaching $30 billion. It’s obviously a blue-chip company; there’s hardly an area of law we’re not involved in. TALKING A GREAT GAME CC: Since you initiated the diversity push, have you seen any improvements? CM: My own perception is that women have been making more progress. The issues for women are different; it’s about breaking through the glass ceiling. If you look at statistics, women are now proportionately represented in law schools. It’s not a scientific survey, but I see more women [than minority] partners in law firms. We talk a great game in this country about equal protection and so forth. But if you look at the legal profession, which is supposedly one of the places that guard our civil rights, and you look at the percentage of the population [that's minority] and the percentage of minority lawyers, there’s a gap. THE HOME FRONT CC: What’s BellSouth’s own record? CM: We’ve hired 33 lawyers [since I became GC in 1998], and 27 were women and minorities. Of those who report directly to me — seven in total — one is African-American, two are Hispanic, and one is a woman. But we’re not at a point where we’re so great that we can take a position of moral arrogance. We still have a lot of work to do ourselves. CC: Is there a place for affirmative action in your scheme? CM: When we’re looking for people to hire, we’re not looking at quotas. We’ve kept our standard of excellence [at BellSouth]. We’re just not looking in traditional places to hire in traditional ways. But it means sometimes we have to look harder. CORPORATIONS VS. LAW FIRMS CC: Are corporations more progressive than law firms? CM: GCs are very attuned to diversity. And law firms are coming around to this. One reason may be that [as a corporation] we deal with a more diverse pool: Our customers are diverse, the regulators are diverse, juries are diverse … everybody we deal with is more diverse. Law firms have different priorities; they want to get top legal talent and get paid for their services. Their customers are more narrow. They aren’t unsympathetic [to diversity], but their worldview is more narrow. CC: How do law firms define the problem? CM: Law firms all across the country are always saying, “Our problem isn’t hiring but retention.” And so we’re trying to help them on that issue by saying that clients really want to see women and minorities work on our matters … . But we don’t want to be an unofficial EEOC; we’re working in partnership with firms to help them to get more minorities in the pipeline. THE PROGNOSIS CC: Do you have a personal time frame in which you want to see results? CM: We want to see improvement continuously. All the time … . We want to see that they’re working on it. But a firm in San Francisco would have an easier time [achieving diversity] than one in Baton Rouge — that’s the reality, so we have to look at each firm’s situation. CC: Will the diversity issue ever run out of steam? CM: Since it’s politically correct, no one is going to be against diversity. But change comes from conflict. And if everyone is in agreement, that can reduce the impetus for change … . It’s not enough that you like the concept … . There are 8 zillion ways to work on this. My job is to make it a priority and keep people thinking about it.

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