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Timeline: Corporate contributions to diversity and inclusion in the legal profession


1999: First steps

The legal profession takes its first formal stance on diversity when representing corporate America. This stance is articulated in a letter written by Charles Morgan, then general counsel (GC) of BellSouth. In part, it states:

We expect the law firms which represent our companies to work actively to promote diversity within their workplace. In making our respective decisions concerning selection of outside counsel, we will give significant weight to a firm’s commitment and progress in this area.

Five hundred GCs sign the letter.

2004: Giving teeth to the Morgan letter

In an effort to give greater force to the stance expressed in the Morgan letter, Sara Lee GC Rick Palmore issues a call to action that states:

Decisions regarding which law firms represent our companies [will be] based in significant part on the diversity performance of the firms. We further intend toend or limit our relationships with firmswhose performance consistently evidences a lack of meaningful intent in being diverse.

The proclamation is significant, declaring that firms will face firing if they are insufficiently diverse. One hundred GCs sign on.

2009: From proclamation to practice

Palmore, to whom it’s become clear that pronouncements can only go so far to change behavior, launches the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) and serves as its first chair.

The LCLD’s membership comprises a Who’s Whoof Big Law managing partners and major corporate GCs. Today its membership consists of approximately 90 GCs and 180 managing partners.

The LCLD’s flagship endeavor is its Fellows Program, which seeks to identify high-potential attorneys from diverse backgrounds and set them on the path to leadership in their organizations. Those selected to participate embark on a learning program that includes:

  • In-person conferences
  • Training in the fine points of legal practice
  • Peer-group projects to foster collaboration and build relationships
  • Extensive contact with LCLD’s top leadership
2017: Further strides

Two major initiatives are introduced: Resolution 113 and the “Mansfield Rule.”

Resolution 113

The goal of Resolution 113, passed by the ABA House of Delegates, is to call on corporate legal departments to use their leverage to advance diversity in the profession. Specifically, the resolution “urges clients to assist in the facilitation of opportunities for diverse attorneys, and to direct a greater percentage of the legal services they purchase, both currently and in the future, to diverse attorneys.”

Over 100 legal departments at major companies sign a letter pledging their support.

The Mansfield Rule

A second, more novel effort involves a program known as the Mansfield Rule. Under its terms, major law firms are to promote leadership opportunities for women and attorneys of color. This rule is modeled onthe “Rooney Rule,” which requires NFL teams to consider minority candidates when hiring coaches. The Mansfield Rule takes its name from Arabella Mansfield, the first woman admitted to practice law in the United States.

The Mansfield Rule measures and tracks whether firms have considered a diverse candidate pool of at least 30 percent women and minority lawyers when hiring for leadership and governance roles, making equity partner decisions, and filling lateral positions. More than 50 legal departments agree to support those firms that satisfy the rule’s requirements by meeting and getting to know the new leaders and partners.

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