Maybe it’s because I get jaded easily, but I just can’t get myself excited that the legal profession is really getting on the stick about diversity or women.
I know, I know, you’re going to tell me about the swell efforts going on. Like that Inclusion Initiative, recently reported by Corporate Counsel, in which 32 corporations spent over $226 million in 2016 on work performed by minority- and women-owned law firms. Or the Mansfield Rule Initiative, launched by Caren Ulrich Stacy, CEO of the Diversity Lab, in which firms commit to presenting at least a 30 percent slate of women or minorities for equity partnership promotions and lateral positions.
First, let me say I think these are worthy, innovative initiatives. (I’m especially heartened by the money expended by the Inclusion Initiative. To me, nothing says commitment like money.)
So why am I still not optimistic that women and minorities are top priorities of Corporate America?
Because if you read the latest findings by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) carefully, you’ll see that the vast, vast majority of corporations don’t really keep tabs on outside counsel. (The ACC report also shows huge divides between the sexes. Women lawyers dominate lower-paying positions and think they are paid unfairly. While 48 percent of women said there was a definite compensation gap by gender, only 8 percent of men felt the same way.)
Clients might make a lot of noise about diversity, but when it comes to keeping score on outside counsel, they’re doing squat. Here’s what I mean (ACC surveyed 1,800 in-house lawyers from 53 countries):
• On the diversity front, only 6 percent of respondents said their departments track the diversity efforts of their outside providers through e-billing systems or other data-driven methods not reported by the provider (71 percent said there was no such tracking).
• As for women, a measly 3 percent said their departments track women in management positions of their outside providers through e-billing systems or other data-driven methods not reported by the provider (the ACC did not give the rate that said there was no tracking).
But when asked whether diversity was discussed by the board or the C-suite, 45 percent of counsel answered in the affirmative and 39 percent in the negative (for U.S. counsel, 43 percent said yes versus 41 percent that said no).
Forgive me, but doesn’t all this suggest that there’s more talk than meaningful action on the diversity front by corporations? I mean, how many times have we heard that clients are pressuring law firms to diversify and promote women?
Veta Richardson, head of the ACC, suggests that I might be jumping the gun putting the blame on corporations. “In the U.S., only a minority of companies have sophisticated systems, like e-billing trackers,” she explains, adding that the ACC membership consists of both large and small companies.
While it’s true that high-revenue companies tend to keep better tabs on outside counsel through e-billing program or other data-driven methods, the numbers are still paltry. For instance, the ACC study shows that respondents who work for companies with over $10 billion in revenue indicated the highest rate of tracking (18 percent) by their employers. That said, wouldn’t you expect far more of these companies to be keeping tabs on their law firms?
If companies are so upset that their outside counsel aren’t doing enough to promote minorities and women, what exactly are they doing about it? It doesn’t seem they’re pressing them that hard for verifiable data about their lawyers.
Richardson says that companies might be doing more than meets the eye. “I don’t think we should feel discouraged,” she says, adding that companies can push hard for diversity even if they don’t have formal tracking systems.
I hope she’s right. But so far, I haven’t been too impressed by all these noble corporate intentions.