Corporate Law Departments Lead Firms in Diversity Push
The business case for diversity is established, say panelists at Emory Law
The first in a new series of conversations about diversity in the legal profession drew a crowd of about 200 to Emory University School of Law on Monday evening.
"All of these firms and in-house departments have been doing their own diversity efforts, and we thought a law school would be a good place to engage in a conversation on best practices," said Melba Hughes, a partner at legal recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa, who is organizing Emory Law's Diversity Speaker Series.
Corporate law departments have made more progress in increasing diversity than firms, said the three high-profile general counsel and the former CEO of MetLife who participated in Monday's panel discussion.
UPS's chief legal officer, Teri McClure, moderated the panel, which was made up of Home Depot's general counsel, Teresa Roseborough; DuPont's general counsel, Thomas Sager; and the retired chairman, president and CEO of MetLife, C. Robert Henrikson.
"The GC suite is changing," Sager said. "Our ability to attract women and minorities is at an all-time high."
Dupont and other corporate law departments may not pay as much as private firms, he said, but they offer work-life balance instead of an "eat what you kill" mentality, a more inclusive environment and a chance to participate in the business's strategy.
Sager said law firms' myopic focus on profit impeded their efforts to promote diversity. "I think law firms are very short-term focused. At the end of the year, they see how they did and divide up the spoils."
"Law firms need to understand that it's more than how many more clients come in through the door because of their diversity efforts," Sager said.
"And the commitment to diversity can evaporate overnight," he cautioned.
The panelists agreed that the business case for diversity has already been established, citing changing demographics in the U.S. and U.S. corporations' globalized and more diverse customer base.