Diversity in the legal profession and in corporate America is not a luxury, the chief legal and compliance officer for parcel company UPS said in an interview.

Teri Plummer McClure, who was in Pennsylvania this week to speak at a Philadelphia Bar Association event with the theme of diversity in the legal profession, said that with these poor economic times in America, she is hearing law firms say they are focusing more on their bottom line and client development and that they cannot afford to put attention on "luxuries," including the diversity of their legal workforce.

"I don’t think embracing diversity is a luxury. It’s a necessity," said McClure, who is the senior vice president of legal, compliance, audit and public affairs, general counsel and corporate secretary at UPS.

UPS, which does business in more than 220 countries around the globe, has recognized that embracing diversity and inclusion is the way to get the best out of its people, McClure said.

Organizations get greater knowledge and greater effectiveness when their workforces are diverse, McClure said.

There is much higher competition for jobs at law firms, but now is "not the time to shy away from diversity commitment," McClure said. "It is still important to work aggressively to create within our organizations a true culture for inclusion and diversity."

UPS requires that its outside counsel have diversity on their legal teams that not only reflects the communities in which they are working, but reflects UPS’s own diversity as well, McClure said.

Outside counsel must report to UPS the number of hours billed by women attorneys and attorneys of diverse backgrounds, McClure said.

McClure also said UPS will require that the "relationship partner" be changed if the person who is really doing the work is not the same attorney who is interacting with UPS.

The biggest challenge is keeping diverse attorneys in the law firms who are doing work as outside counsel for UPS, McClure said.

"From where we sit, there’s so much turnover, it’s hard to see significant gains," McClure said.

McClure said she tells her outside counsel that UPS and other corporations invest a lot in hiring and retaining employees, but "I don’t know if law firms see it the same way."

Law firms and the management of in-house legal departments must invest in people to ensure their success, not just utilize them to benefit the organization, McClure said.

"Feeding back into them" ensures that diverse talent will stay with firms or departments, McClure said.

Otherwise, attorneys of diverse backgrounds feel isolated and even feel discriminated against, McClure said.

Firms and legal departments "have to have the mass presence of two or three or four [diverse attorneys] to make people comfortable and know they are wanted," McClure said.

Companies and law firms also must support internship programs to help young people from diverse backgrounds overcome the challenges to graduating from college, much less law school, McClure said.

UPS has 100 people in its legal department, which is small for a company of its size, McClure said. Only a little over half of those people are attorneys, she said.

UPS intentionally has a small legal department and relies on outside counsel because the company works in so many jurisdictions and it would be difficult to have attorneys practicing in all the necessary areas in-house, McClure said.

Making diversity a priority at UPS is a way to root out ahead of time the problems that would make it so UPS was not complying with anti-discrimination laws, said McClure, who added that her role is to identify and mitigate risk for UPS.

It’s about "creating an environment that doesn’t even allow those issues to crop up," McClure said.

Some of UPS’s upcoming challenges are its international growth, its movement into the logistical and distribution side of its business, data security and airline security, McClure said.

Health care regulation is another big challenge for UPS, and McClure’s last two hires in her department were health care attorneys to deal with state and federal health regulations, she said.

A Philadelphia Mentor

One of McClure’s mentors is a Philadelphia attorney.

William H. Brown III, who as chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated a complaint made by UPS employees and eventually was hired to be UPS’s first black director, was a mentor to McClure when she was first hired as a labor and employment attorney at UPS in 1995, McClure said.

Brown encouraged UPS to have diversity not only in its drivers, package loaders and clerical workers, but in its corporate functions, McClure said.

The biggest lesson McClure said she learned from Brown was to continue to speak up even though people would say of him, "’I know Bill. I know what he’s going to say.’"

Brown is senior counsel with Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis. Schnader Harrison has a long-standing attorney-client relationship with UPS, McClure said.

Amaris Elliott-Engel can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or aelliott-engel@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisTLI.