It seemed ambitious at the time: Eleven major U.S. corporations pledged to spend $30 million with women- and minority-owned law firms in 2010 as part of a program called the Inclusion Initiative, spearheaded by the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms.

It turns out that the goal wasn’t ambitious enough. Those companies spent $42.6 million with women- and minority-owned firms last year, and have raised their goal for collective spending to $70 million in 2011. Six more companies have come on board as well, for a total of 17 in 2011.

“The Inclusion Initiative was launched in 2010 to demonstrate that leading companies in an array of industries are successfully using diverse law firms for a wide variety of complex legal matters,” said E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. Senior Vice President and General Counsel Thomas Sager in announcing the program’s early results. “We’re especially pleased that this success came in such a challenging economic environment.”

The initial group of participants in the initiative included Dupont, Accenture PLC, American Airlines Inc., Comcast Corp., Exelon Corp., General Mills Inc., GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Microsoft Corp. and Prudential Financial Inc.

Joining the effort this year are Google Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Macy’s Inc., Shell Oil Co., Verizon Communications Inc. and Xerox Corp.

“By setting a higher 2011 spending goal for the Inclusion Initiative, we are providing more opportunities for these firms and benefiting from their incredible talent pool to help achieve our goals,” said Curtis Frasier, executive vice president and general counsel of Shell.

The idea behind the initiative is that corporations can promote diversity in the legal profession by earmarking spending with women-and minority-owned firms. Those firms tend to be smaller than their Big Law competitors.

A recent study by the National Association for Law Placement found that the percentage of women and minority attorneys at U.S. law firms declined slightly in 2010.

“We were really looking for companies that are well-known brands, companies that are aggressive and companies that have a pre-existing diversity footprint,” said Richard Amador, chairman of the task force overseeing the initiative. “An important objective is for these companies to be a model and show others that it can be done.”

While the association is coordinating the program, firms don’t have to be members to be included.

Karen Sloan can be contacted at