Not long ago, the ranks of the largest law firms were mostly filled with lawyers who were straight, white men focused mainly on revenue. Our innovators in this area weren't content with the status quo. General counsel such as Roderick Palmore and Thomas Sager used their clout as clients to encourage firms to become more diverse in hiring and promotion. Before she was U.S. secretary of state, a U.S. senator, or first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton drew attention to gender bias at law firms. Morrison & Foerster's Keith Wetmore ignored advice to keep quiet about his sexual preference and became the first openly gay managing partner in the Am Law 100. Allen & Overy's David Morley created an internship program to open opportunities to students from a range of socioeconomic classes. Other innovators—the Pro Bono Institute's Esther Lardent, Covington & Burling's Howard Westwood, and New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman—revitalized the bar's longstanding tradition of pro bono. They challenged firms to do more, created new pro bono opportunities, and reminded lawyers that justice for all remains the profession's core value.

Leadership Council on Legal Diversity
Palmore’s challenge pushed law firms to increase diversity in their ranks.

New York State Chief Judge
New York
To expand access to legal services, New York’s chief judge has added pro bono requirements for the state’s newly minted lawyers.

Pro Bono Institute
Washington, D.C.
Lardent tracked pro bono hours—and encouraged law firms to do more.

Allen & Overy
A new internship program at U.K. firms promotes social mobility.

E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company


For Thomas Sager, senior vice president and general counsel at E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, mounting mass tort lawsuits in the early 1990s forced a reexamination of the way his company worked with outside counsel. The DuPont Legal Model that Sager unveiled in 1992 brought business discipline into the practice of law, calling for greater cooperation between DuPont and its outside lawyers. It aimed to cut costs by using litigation budgets and alternative fee arrangements that paid law firms for meeting a series of performance metrics. The new model also promoted diversity by hiring firms that actively recruited women and minorities. Sager's use of performance metrics in evaluating firms not only demonstrated that law departments could provide value to a company, but changed the way firms and companies measured success, says Susan Hackett, chief executive officer of consulting firm Legal Executive Leadership. "Tom was out in front way before anyone else," she says. "Law firms are following his lead now and focusing on the business of law." The Financial Post estimated that the model had saved DuPont more than $175 million as of 2010.

Morrison & Foerste
New York

When Keith Wetmore began his career in 1982 as an associate in the San Francisco office of Morrison & Foerster, it was a scary time to be an openly gay male. The AIDS crisis was just beginning. Most gay and lesbian lawyers remained in the closet at their jobs. Wetmore says that although the firm was generally accepting of his homosexuality, the interviewing partner still advised him to keep quiet about it. The advice didn't take. Wetmore was the first openly gay partner to rise from the associate ranks at MoFo. Then, in 2000, when he was elected MoFo's chair, he became the first openly gay head of a major law firm. Throughout his career, Wetmore has led initiatives that helped set new standards for gay rights in the law firm workplace. In the 1990s, for instance, MoFo became one of the first law firms to expand its benefits coverage to include same-sex partners; more recently, in 2010, it announced that it would offer health care tax offsets to employees and attorneys in same-sex domestic partnerships, one of the first firms to do so.

Covington & Burling

Washington, D.C.

In 1969 Covington & Burling partner Howard Westwood went looking for young lawyers to work at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program, an organization he had started five years earlier to provide legal representation to the poor in Washington, D.C. He found them close to home, when Covington leaders agreed to send two associates and two secretaries to work at NLSP on a six-month rotating basis. Since then, more than 200 Covington lawyers have worked at NLSP, while other firms have instituted their own versions of Covington's groundbreaking pro bono secondment. According to a 2008 study by Harvard Law School, approximately 50 Am Law 200 firms offer six-month public interest rotations for associates.

ABA Task Force on Law Schools and The Profession

New York

When Sullivan & Cromwell's Robert MacCrate headed an American Bar Association task force on law schools and the profession in 1992, what he heard from lawyers was that law school graduates were woefully underprepared for practice. MacCrate's study was a call to action: He convinced the ABA to require law school to offer more skills training, such as clinical programs. "There had been prior reports, but they weren't as globally focused or rigorous as the MacCrate committee [report]," says New York University Law School professor Randy Hertz, who served on the task force. "Bob was the driving force."

ABA Commission on Women in the Profession

Washington, D.C.

In 1987 Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a partner at Little Rock's Rose Law Firm, put a spotlight on gender bias at law firms as chair of the American Bar Association's first Commission on Women in the Profession. Her report found that women in firms were often harassed, frozen out of client matters, and constrained by a glass ceiling. "Clinton's finding was that it was extremely difficult for women at all levels to practice law, and the 'wait and see attitude' was not workable," says ABA president Laurel Bellows. The ABA pledged to work to eliminate gender inequality in the profession and began tracking the number of women in ABA leadership roles.