In 2010, Prudential and 32 other large companies – including Xerox, Google and Toyota – founded the Inclusion Initiative, a programme that sought to increase the amount legal departments spent at women- and minority-owned law firms. 

This week, the initiative announced that its members spent $240m at minority and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) firms in 2017. Since the initiative started, the companies have spent more than $1.4bn at such firms.

Legal Week sister title Corporate Counsel spoke to Ann Kappler, senior vice-president and deputy general counsel of Prudential Financial, to hear about the company’s role in the initiative, and her advice for improving diversity in law – in-house and outside.

What are three pieces of advice you have for in-house lawyers wanting to increase external counsel diversity? 

In-house lawyers, when deciding which firms to use, should routinely ask themselves: “Can this work be conducted by a minority- and women-owned law firm?” Corporate law departments, such as Prudential’s, have myriad needs – many of which can be met by MWBE firms.

I would also encourage in-house law departments to become involved and increase their engagement with organisations such as the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF), which has been an outstanding resource for identifying prospective firms and helping in-house teams support diversity efforts.

Lastly, I believe it’s important to make tangible commitments to diverse firms. This is what we’ve done with our work with the Inclusion Initiative. And we encourage corporate law teams to join with us.

How did you find the MWBE firms Prudential uses? Word of mouth? How did you determine who could best represent you?

As mentioned, organisations such as NAMWOLF have been a valuable resource for identifying potential MWBE law firms. We evaluate all the law firms that we work with using the same criteria. In many cases, MWBE firms can provide the same – if not better – quality of services as larger firms.

We’ve heard diverse teams lead to better outcomes. How have you seen outcomes change, if they have, since increasing outside counsel spend to MWBE firms? 

Each person brings a unique perspective to his or her work. I know from my personal experiences, diverse teams can provide a distinct advantage by looking at problems differently or highlighting unforeseen challenges and opportunities, leading to better, informed results.

Have there also been efforts to increase in-house diversity at Prudential? What are some pieces of advice you’d give to other departments trying to increase diversity in-house?

A culture of diversity and inclusion is ingrained in our DNA and is paramount to our success. Having a diverse and inclusive in-house team makes us stronger, more resilient and insightful.

At Prudential, we believe that to truly foster diversity in the legal profession, we must take a multifaceted approach. We offer internships and fellowships to increase opportunities for diverse individuals. We also have several programmes focused on building diversity in the talent pipeline. One such example is NJ LEEP – an organisation that provides a legal profession-focused experience for underserved high-school students. Through the programmes, students gain exposure to legal careers, while enhancing their education and college preparedness.