Microsoft has updated its Premier Provider Program (PPP) slate of preferred outside counsel, and there’s a significant new player on the 2013 roster. Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan, one of the largest minority-owned firms in the U.S., has been included in Microsoft’s biennial list of 12 go-to firms, taking its place alongside Am Law 100 firms Sidley Austin and Perkins Coie.
“Breaking into that very select group,” said firm Chairman Emery Harlan, has been “transformative for the firm and represents a ‘Jackie Robinson moment’ for the legal profession.” Of the 122 lawyers at GSH, 70 percent are minorities or women. The American Lawyer’s recent diversity survey of the largest law firms in the country (which does not include women as a minority group) found that in 2012, minority lawyers comprised 13.9 percent of the 228 responding firms.
“[This is] by far the most meaningful commitment that we have been able to develop with a corporation,” Harlan said.
Founded in Milwaukee in 1989, GSH now has 16 offices throughout the U.S. and has been assisting Microsoft with legal matters such as complex employment, IP litigation, and patent licensing since 2010, according to Harlan. The relationship began when Harlan met Brad Smith, Microsoft’s executive vice president and general counsel, through the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms. Harlan credits Smith with being, “the biggest proponent of diversity within the legal profession.”
In a 2008 letter from Smith to Microsoft’s PPP law firms, the GC wrote, “Despite good intentions, the legal profession has not yet achieved impressive results in expanding diversity that fully reflects equal opportunity for the available pool of qualified talent.” He then went on to outline how the Redmond-based tech company would incentivize firms to expand their talent pools to include more women and minorities.
“We believe that diversity in our legal teams is a business necessity,” Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft told CorpCounsel.com. Gutierrez works directly with GSH and described the relationship between the firm and Microsoft as “an innovative approach in the way that legal departments engage with minority firms. By deeply partnering and mentoring, that helps [the firms] develop the expertise they need to broaden the services they provide.”
Gutierrez said he made a deliberate decision to work more closely with GSH and together with Harlan helped the firm expand certain practice groups to match Microsoft’s needs. “Their inclusion in the PPP program has been a culmination of three years of close work with” Microsoft, according to Gutierrez.
The PPP dozen is selected by the senior leadership team of Microsoft’s legal department. Criteria for consideration include: high quality of work, particular subject area expertise, broad geographic scope, familiarity with Microsoft’s business, and a proven track record working with the company. Once selected, the corporation commits to driving a significant portion of its legal work to the PPP firms. GSH is amongst the smallest of the firms on the list and is the first ever minority-owned firm on the list. “The fact that they’ve put themselves in the position to be considered and admitted,” said Gutierrez, “is very significant.”