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Theresa Hebert, an assistant general counsel at ExxonMobil Corp. in Irving, Texas, is surprised the hiring of women and minority lawyers by in-house departments is a topic of discussion 27 years after she started working at the energy company. “I can’t believe we are still talking about it,” says Hebert, who works in Global Resources and Operations at ExxonMobil. “Not that I don’t think it’s important, but we started this more than 27 years ago.” Hebert doesn’t have exact figures, but she recalls that her hiring class at Exxon included other women and some minority lawyers. Others women, including Melinda Harmon, now a federal judge in Houston, already were working in the corporation’s legal department when Hebert joined it after graduating from Texas Tech University School of Law. Today, close to 30 percent of the 289 lawyers working for ExxonMobil in the United States are women and 16 percent are minorities, according to statistics provided by Hebert, who is the member of the legal department’s management committee responsible for recruiting and hiring. According to statistics provided by ExxonMobil and 14 other high-grossing Texas companies, 38.8 percent of the lawyers working in-house in the United States at those companies are women, and 13.2 percent are minority lawyers. The 15 companies are among the 25 highest-grossing companies in Texas, as ranked on the Fortune 500 list. Corporations are attracting more than their fair share of women and minorities — women comprise 28.3 percent of the membership of the State Bar of Texas, and minorities make up 12.3 percent of the Bar’s membership, according to Bar statistics. The statistics from the 15 large corporations suggest female lawyers in Texas are flocking to in-house jobs, and minority lawyers, on average, aren’t quite as attracted to them. “It’s very much a reflection of general corporate efforts to increase diversity,” says Bass Wallace, the general counsel of Houston’s TETRA Technologies Inc. and president of the Houston chapter of the American Corporate Counsel Association. Women make up about two-thirds of the lawyers at three of the corporations on the chart — Continental Airlines Inc. of Houston, Dell Computer Corp. of Round Rock and Dallas’ Dean Foods Co. They comprise more than 40 percent of the lawyers at J.C. Penney Co. of Plano, Valero Energy Corp. of San Antonio, Houston’s Reliant Resources Inc. and Clear Channel Communications Inc., also of San Antonio. Jennifer Vogel, general counsel of Continental Airlines, says the airline doesn’t do anything more than seek the “best and brightest” for its in-house positions. “It just happens to be women more often than not fill these positions,” she says. “In general, in-house positions are more attractive to women because you have more control of your schedule. When you have more control of your schedule, you are able to balance your home life,” says Vogel, who has worked at Continental since 1995 and became general counsel in 2001. Vogel is likely correct in her assessment that women are attracted to a workplace that allows for a flexible schedule. But the concentration of women and minority lawyers at corporations may be the result of longstanding recruitment programs that stretch beyond the confines of the legal departments. At SBC Communications Inc., for instance, Al Richter, senior vice president and general counsel for SBC Southwest, says the corporation aggressively seeks to hire women and minorities in all jobs, and the legal department’s hiring reflects the policy. “The reason we have some success is, while we are a fairly big company with 170,000 employees … , that all of our hiring in legal gets cleared through a central source and tracked so we know how we are doing on these issues,” he says. “We do work on it. There’s no doubt about it.” Richter won’t reveal the total number of lawyers in the legal department at the San Antonio-based company, but says about 39 percent of the lawyers are women and about 15 percent are minorities. He says referral from employees is a useful tool for the company to improve its diversity, particularly in Texas and California where the relative population of Hispanics is increasing. But he says SBC has one disadvantage in hiring minority lawyers — it doesn’t hire lawyers right out of law school, and he finds it difficult to lure minority lawyers away from opportunities at firms. But even corporations such as ExxonMobil, where the legal department hires summer clerks and first-year lawyers, find it challenging to attract minority lawyers because of competition with firms, Hebert says. “I find good minorities. I make them an offer, and they decline because a firm made them an offer” they like better, she says. “A lot of the law professors kind of convince kids the way to go is to first go with the firm because you can always go with a corporation. I try to tell the kids we hire out of law schools … we are trying to grow from within,” she says. Like ExxonMobil, Shell Oil Co. hires summer clerks and first-year lawyers. Catherine Lamboley, senior vice president and general counsel of Shell Oil in Houston, says that approach improves the legal department’s success at recruiting women and minorities. And, she says, the department always considers diversity when doing lateral hires. While the percentages of women and minority lawyers at Shell are a little higher than the averages at the 15 Texas corporations on the chart, Lamboley says she continues to focus on improving the department’s diversity. “What is enough? We can do more. We can do better,” she says, adding that 42 percent of the 135 lawyers working for Shell in the United States are women and 16 percent are minorities. Lamboley says diversity goes beyond recruitment and retention. “The real issue is not just whether the lawyers are on staff, but what positions they hold. I don’t know if the corporations [in the survey] would uniformly say that women and minorities have attained the positions they would like them to have,” she says. Lamboley says few women or minority lawyers were working in Shell’s legal department when she joined the company 24 years ago, right after graduating from the University of Texas School of Law. At 14 percent of the Fortune 500 companies, women hold the GC jobs, according to a report in July in Corporate Counsel magazine, an affiliate of Texas Lawyer. Five of 15 Texas companies on the chart, 33.3 percent, have women GCs. The Minority Corporate Counsel Association reports that the number of female chief legal officers increased by 50 percent from 2000 to 2002, and the number of minorities in those jobs nearly tripled, from 11 to 30, during the period. But because research done by the MCCA and other groups suggests that obstacles still impede the progress of diversity within legal departments, the MCCA asked Catalyst, a New York-based research group, to study the factors that help and hinder in-house advancement. According to the study, which was funded by Texas firms Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Vinson & Elkins, and Chicago’s Lord, Bissell & Brook, advancement in house comes to a lawyer who understands the business and develops relationships with executives in other business units. “The Creating Pathways to Diversity” study, released in July, also says that women and minority in-house lawyers should take risks on the job to develop “leadership currency,” and they should develop mentors. The study also found that lawyers take in-house jobs because they are seeking a better balance between work and their life — although in-house lawyers still work long hours — to avoid business development pressures in a firm and to make client decisions. In addition, the study found that women lawyers working in-house were more likely to create their own definition of success — which could include time carved out for their families. The study also found that general counsel are not only attempting to diversify their departments, but also encouraging firms who do outside work for their corporations to improve diversity. Vogel, for instance, says she doesn’t have a strict rule calling for her outside counsel to assign minority lawyers to her work. She does ask the firms to use their best lawyers on Continental work, and she believes the firms should have a diverse pool of candidates for that work.

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