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Firms have begun to respond to Wal-Mart’s urgent call for diversity action.In mid-July, Carmen Rojas Rafter was facing a major logistical problem. She had rounded up 16 high schoolers from across the country and Guatemala, and within a matter of days they would begin descending on Georgetown University for the first Future Latino Leaders Law Camp. But lunches were up in the air, speaker slots were empty and sponsors — don’t even ask. The camp had several corporate and legal sponsors lined up, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which donated things like t-shirts. But camp organizer Rafter, executive director of the Hispanic National Bar Foundation, needed much more. So while going over the final logo design, she asked P. Alex Vasquez, associate general counsel at Wal-Mart, for help. Vasquez contacted Samuel Reeves, associate general counsel and manager of Wal-Mart’s outside counsel relationships, and Reeves put his Rolodex to work, contacting firms with D.C. offices to drum up sponsorships, speakers and food. The next week, students arrived to find beach towels and disposable cameras supplied by Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. They ate lunches sponsored by Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky; Gardner Carton & Douglas; Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal; and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Manatt, Phelps & Phillips hosted a dinner and sent litigation associate Ileana Hernandez from L.A. to talk to them. Greenberg Traurig litigation associate Kenneth Kaplan also signed on for a speaker slot. And Gibson Dunn attorneys invited the students to their offices for one-on-one help preparing for the mock trial that wrapped up the law camp. “Wal-Mart’s efforts involved more than just an economic donation,” says camp coordinator Rafter. “Attorneys are having contact with students to mentor them and [show that] you don’t have to come from any one type of environment to become a lawyer.” Today it is increasingly common for Fortune 100 clients to demand diversity statistics from outside counsel, says Veta Richardson, executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. But Thomas Mars, general counsel to Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart, is more exacting than most. Eighteen months ago, he saw that 82 of his top 100 firms had white men named as Wal-Mart’s relationship partner. Mars was busy transforming the in-house group that he had found upon arriving in 2002 from 50 lawyers with 9 percent minority representation to today’s 130-plus lawyers, a quarter of whom are minorities. He wanted to see the same kind of action from the outside firms. Mars, a white male himself, is now demanding proof of firms’ pro-diversity efforts in the bar, “good faith” efforts like the July law camp. To that end, Wal-Mart sends a monthly Diversity Alert to outside counsel, listing the company’s upcoming minority bar events and not-so-subtly encouraging firms to join them. And Mars has already dismissed one firm with “substantial” work from Wal-Mart. He won’t name the firm, saying he hopes the dismissal will encourage the delinquent lawyers to try harder. But it will take more than that to get them back on his call list. “I don’t think we would be considering their firm for several years,” Mars says. It’s not just fear of losing corporate work, says Gibson Dunn’s Theodore Boutrous Jr., that drove the firm to help novices prep for a mock trial. Gibson Dunn uses such activities as criteria for grading lawyers’ performance. So having a client make the same demands “is a significant momentum builder,” he says. “Clients and firms need to think in the long term how can we really make the profession diverse.” Now Mars wants results from that long-term view. In June, Reeves made waves with a letter requesting that Wal-Mart’s 100 largest outside counsel list three to five potential relationship partners, including at least one minority and one woman. (Firms could include the current relationship partner.) As of press time, almost all had submitted slates, along with details on bar activities and firmwide diversity statistics. Wal-Mart lawyers are reviewing the stats in hopes of improving on minority and women relationship partner numbers. “We won’t hesitate to sever other relationships,” says Mars emphatically. “I often hear from urban-based firms that they just can’t recruit minority lawyers. As a company located in Bentonville, Ark., which has had no problem recruiting minority lawyers from the best law schools, we just do not accept those kinds of excuses.” Words to warm the hearts of law campers, if not those of complacent white male partners.

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