Diversity - Corporate Counsel Putting Diversity Into The Heart, Soul And Spirit Of Our Legal Profession

Monday, March 1, 2004 - 01:00

The Editor interviews, Madeleine A. Kleiner, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Hilton Hotels Corporation.

Editor: Congratulations on receiving the Matt Whitehead Diversity Award from the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Kleiner: Let me quickly say that ACC's award reflects the accomplishments of my entire legal team, and not just me as an individual. I am proud of my team's commitment that has resulted in diversity within not only our own legal department but also outside in the broader legal community.

Editor: How does your legal team reflect your company's commitment to diversity?

Kleiner: As a company, Hilton Hotels has identified diversity as a key initiative. Because our customer base is diverse, we believe that it is important to represent diversity in our employment and procurement practices. Diversity enhances our competitiveness and strengthens our business.
I have found that the perspectives of my highly diverse legal team bring better answers to the challenges we face. Of the 23 attorneys on my staff, 9 are men and 14 are women; 18 are Caucasian and 5 are minorities of various backgrounds.Of our 19 paralegals and legal assistants, 42 percent are minorities and 73 percent are women. Of our 14 secretaries, 57 percent are minorities and 100 percent are women. Of the 11 others on my staff, 45 percent are men and 45 percent are minority.

Editor: How has your company put its diversity initiatives into action?

Kleiner: To help ensure that our goals are put into action, qualification for our corporate bonus includes a separate item for diversity. This can be met by attending training sessions, being a mentor and/or participating in other activities that might help enhance diversity. We have found people to be very motivated and creative in meeting their diversity objectives.

Editor: How do you address supplier diversity in a legal context?

Kleiner: We reach out to minority and women attorneys within law firms, as well as to minority- and women-owned law firms. We have found when clients demand change in law firms, the law firms respond. For example, when women attorneys handle our matters, their client base grows, which in turn increases their likelihood of success within the firm.
We put our principles into action at the time of hiring outside counsel. We issue RFPs for major matters, generally if the fees are anticipated to be $20,000 or more. Because our business is scattered around the country, we find that it is sometimes advisable to use one national firm to handle a variety of matters. The national firms tend not to be owned by women or minorities. For some locations with special needs, we might be able to go with a smaller firm, which is more likely than a national firm to be owned by women or minorities.We consider diversity as one factor in our selection process, but also consider many other factors, including expertise and cost.
Our outside counsel guidelines emphasize the importance of diversity, as does the language of our RFPs. We also ask the firms to report annually on what percentage of the fees we paid were for services rendered by women and minorities.
We rank each firm into one of three categories and tell them the results. If a law firm does not rank among the highest categories, we encourage them to improve by offering to work with them in developing a plan. I'm happy to report that the firms we work with have been very responsive.

Editor: Have your diversity initiatives achieved measurable results?

Kleiner: Our diversity initiatives have been an ongoing experiment, and we are very proud of our achievements. During a 12-month period, we increased our usage of women attorneys in outside law firms by 68 percent and of minority attorneys by 5 percent. Our achievements are particularly impressive in the context of the legal profession as a whole. Based on an NALP study for the period 2000-2001, the percentage of women in the legal profession increased 20 percent and minorities 3 percent. The difference between the percentages reflects the gains that women are achieving in the legal profession.
We have achieved great results. Our success in increasing our utilization of women and minority outside counsel brought us closer to the demographic makeup of our customers, employees and hotel owners.I would like to see other companies do it, too.

Editor: Where can corporate counsel find resources to advance diversity initiatives within their legal departments?

Kleiner: I received the Matt Whitehead Diversity Award at ACC's 2003 annual meeting and was a speaker at a companion session about diversity. Information about the annual meeting, diversity initiatives and other benchmarking materials are available at ACC's web site at www.acca.com.