MCCA: The Key To Diversity Throughout The Legal Community

Monday, January 31, 2011 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Don H. Liu, Corporate Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Xerox Corporation.

Editor: The success of Xerox and your department are great examples of why the efforts of organizations like MCCA to promote diversity are so important.

Liu: Xerox is one of the most diverse corporations in the world. Its senior management meetings look like the United Nations. It is the product of 40 years of diversity efforts. Ursula Burns became the first black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And, when Anne Mulcahy was succeeded by Ursula Burns, this was the first female-to-female CEO succession in the Fortune 500. Xerox received a 100 percent rating in the 2010 Corporate Equality Index and Best Places to Work Survey of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

My department is also diverse. Minorities compose 25 percent and women 40 percent of its population. Minorities constitute 33 percent of our staff in managerial roles, and 50 percent of those in managerial roles are women. Statistically that means if you're a minority or a woman, you have a higher probability of becoming a manager in my department. Building diversity involves a long-term commitment and effort.

Editor: The future of American business has become global. Do you feel that diversity has helped your company to be a more effective global company?

Liu: I have no doubt about it. In early 2010, we bought a company called Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), which is the largest diversified business process outsourcing company in the world. One of the synergies for that deal was that ACS was primarily a U.S. company, and it was going to utilize the tremendous international footprint that Xerox has to broaden the geographic coverage of ACS outside the U.S.

What ACS realized was the strength of the Xerox brand overseas; some might even argue that the Xerox brand is stronger outside the U.S. than in the U.S. The fact that diversity is baked into our DNA has helped us appreciate the diversity of cultures, the diversity of business environments and the diversity of laws that you encounter when you expand outside the U.S.

Editor: As immediate past chair of the MCCA Board of Directors and as general counsel of a global company ranking 152 among Fortune 500 companies, you have firsthand knowledge of the diversity issues that MCCA seeks to address in the corporate world. What is the most pressing need in your view?

Liu: Because of the economic downturn and its consequences for minority lawyers, MCCA's primary goal of embedding a commitment to diversity into all aspects of the U.S. legal scene has become even more important. MCCA has long recognized that the influence of corporate counsel is key to achieving that goal.

I have seen that influence grow over the years that I have served on the MCCA board. We, who have been corporate counsel for many years, have seen the legal market change, the economy change and business evolve, but MCCA's dedication to using corporate counsel's power to make diversity pervasive throughout the entire legal industry has not changed. That power resides in corporate counsel's position as clients of law firms and purchasers of the products and services of a wide range of legal service providers.

When I first joined the board of MCCA in 1999 there were very few minority general counsel. That has changed, and there are now more minority and women lawyers who are general counsel of large companies and many more minority and women lawyers in legal departments.

Most importantly, there has been a huge increase in the number of non-minority corporate counsel who understand the importance of diversity to their legal departments and their companies - the future Tom Sagers. Tom, who is general counsel of DuPont, pioneered the DuPont Legal Model, which provides a successful example of how the influence of corporate counsel can spread diversity throughout the legal community.

I am still surprised by how many large law firm partners tell me that there aren't that many large company general counsel who are pushing their firms to become more diverse. This tells me that MCCA still has a lot of work to do to achieve its primary goal.

Editor: How strong is the business case for the proposition that more diverse outside counsel will handle a case or matter in a superior way?

Liu: MCCA has done an enormous amount of research on the issue. It boils down to the proposition that a more diverse law firm is more likely to understand the diverse environment in which we live and the considerations that motivate the diverse players in the legal environment. This puts them at an advantage when arguing before a diverse judge or jury or negotiating a contract with diverse individuals.

MCCA is exploring ways to assess the diversity of law firms. It is a lot harder than you might assume. Hispanics might constitute 10 percent of the lawyers in a law firm located in Miami, a city where the Hispanic population might be as high as 25 percent. How can you compare that with a Des Moines firm that has 10 percent minorities in a city where the minority population may be only 2 percent? I am not sure I have the demographic numbers right, but, you can see the difficulties in assessing diversity accurately.

Editor: Has the Obama presidency helped to convince young people of color that there is no limit to what they can achieve?

Liu: He is a walking example. A diverse person and a lawyer who came from a very modest background to achieve success, he symbolizes the potential for success that exists in our society and is an inspiration for organizations like MCCA. He has also created an administration that by appointing people of diversity to high office provides many other walking models for diverse young people. That is motivating because that tells you that if you are a young hard-working minority, the sky is the limit in this country.

Editor: The recession has hit minority lawyers particularly hard. What has MCCA been doing to help those who have been affected?

Liu: In the past two years, the layoffs among large law firm attorneys affected minority lawyers more than non-minority attorneys. In my view, it's not because law firms are intentionally focusing on laying off minority attorneys. These results occurred despite their best efforts in diversity. But, this also means we've gone backwards in diversity in the past two years. So, we have to do a lot to catch up. MCCA has been a voice of concern about this disturbing trend and has been driving efforts to reverse the trend.

Editor: What are the achievements of MCCA during your term as chairman of which you are most proud?

Liu: The challenges I faced were unique. The financial crisis began in 2008 as well as the recession that it triggered. These were tough days for MCCA.

The challenge that we faced was the financial well-being of the organization. We had to make sure that MCCA was going to stay healthy throughout the period. Our goal was to keep the organization financially and otherwise healthy through this great recession. We hunkered down and focused on doing the most important things that we exist for. We came out of it stronger. Mentally, we are more focused.

Editor: What is MCCA doing to help the diverse lawyers who lost their jobs?

Liu: Our primary focus was to figure out ways to help them find and keep jobs. MCCA has two very effective tools, which have been well-utilized and have drawn much praise. One is the MCCA Job Bank that you can use online to look at the jobs that are available. The other is MCCA's KAN-DO! Mentoring Program, which provides mentoring to help diverse attorneys to maintain their jobs.

Because it is important for those looking for jobs to move quickly to apply for jobs as soon as openings occur, the MCCA Job Bank is designed to make that happen. MCCA also sends out a monthly Hot Jobs Email Blast with respect to the newest job openings so that our constituents know about them immediately.

The second area is also of great importance because it not only has to do with getting the job, but most importantly keeping it. Under its KAN-DO! program, MCCA offers to young diverse lawyers long-term professional development mentoring from diverse lawyers who have become successful in their jobs.

This mentoring program that was developed in the last couple of years is designed to do that. It's really designed to help diverse students and lawyers who can receive mentoring from more seasoned attorneys about how to get a job or succeed in their job. It can be a great help in avoiding becoming the target of layoffs to begin with. And, for those who are laid off, it offers advice about how attorneys can remake themselves for the next job.

The prospect of helping diverse lawyers to find and keep a job has attracted many seasoned mentors to sign up. Xerox was the first corporate sponsor of the program.

I asked all Xerox attorneys to volunteer, and many of them did. MCCA can always use more mentors.

Editor: I see that MCCA has launched a new initiative, the Firm Affiliate Network (FAN), to assist and acknowledge law firms that are advancing diversity in the legal profession. How will it work?

Liu: This is a new MCCA initiative that is getting off the ground this year. Law firms cannot be members of MCCA. The only permanent members of MCCA are corporate legal departments. Many of the law firms that have benefited from MCCA's work expressed a desire for a more permanent relationship with MCCA so that they could play a more active role in its activities.

FAN is a response to that demand. We want to provide more substantive, easily accessible resources to those law firms and provide them with the ability to share ideas and best practices. Law firms must qualify by meeting standards established by MCCA. These include the following (among others): Does the firm have a nondiscrimination policy? Does it have a diversity plan? Does it have a standing diversity committee that is promoting that plan? Does it have regular communications from top law firm management about the importance of diversity?

Once a law firm joins FAN it has a more permanent relationship with MCCA, which brings with it a number of benefits. Just to mention a few: MCCA assists it in marketing itself by posting bios and practice information about its diverse attorneys. It has access to our library and research information and receives our special newsletter regarding diversity trends, statistics, etc. We help it develop group mentoring and allow it to attend MCCA briefings.

Providing these benefits, many of which will be specially tailored for FAN, will obviously cause MCCA to incur additional expense. We are asking our law firms who become part of that network to pay modest dues to offset some of those costs.

Editor: What is MCCA doing to keep the educational pipeline to the legal profession open for people of color?

Liu: It's an important issue because the pipeline is really the future. If you don't have continuous pipeline, the supply drains out. MCCA has for a number of years provided scholarships to students through the Lloyd Johnson Scholarship named after our founder and the first executive director.

We learned along the way that, despite all the economic pressures, providing scholarships is an absolutely necessary investment in the future. Therefore, notwithstanding the economic pressures of the past few years, we have continued to fund our scholarships.

Editor: Is there an effort to involve corporations and law firms in comparable activities?

Liu: Yes. Microsoft is a great example. They have been a very substantial contributor to the pipeline by providing the funds necessary to provide scholarships, and other corporations have followed Microsoft's example. Law firms have also joined this effort.