The Expanding Role Of Corporate Counsel In Diversity - And Globalization

Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - 01:00

Al Driver

Editor

People make things happen - people who are willing to play a leadership role
in accomplishing a goal in which they deeply believe. Today, it is no longer
necessary to convince the management of any major company that diversity is an
important objective and that it contributes to shareholder value. Yet, if one
travels back in time five or six years, relatively little progress had been made
and many managements were hanging back from taking any kind of dramatic action
to achieve greater diversity. Although many corporate counsel viewed diversity
as a helpful policy to make their companies less vulnerable to discrimination
suits, most seemed not to have recognized the larger dimensions of the issue or
felt the need to motivate other corporate counsel to act. That is, with at least
one notable exception.

Charles Morgan (now Executive Vice President and General Counsel, On Site
E-Discovery) joined Bell South as Executive Vice President and General
Counsel in February of 1998. In his interview on page 47, he says "I
brought to the job the conviction that entirely aside from legal concerns about
discrimination, businesses throughout America could, through greater diversity,
build shareholder value. To do this they needed to be sensitive to the fact that
increasingly large percentages of their customers, employees and other
constituencies would be minorities and that if they were to be successful in the
marketplace they must encourage different perspectives and ways to address
problems."

Charles didn't just privately mull over his conviction that businesses
throughout the country could create shareholder value through diversity, he
shared his thinking with hundreds of other general counsel of major
corporations. He asked them to sign a Statement of Principle affirming their
strong commitment to the goal of diversity in the workplace. But, it went beyond
that and stated that the signatories to the Statement expected their outside
counsel also to work actively to promote diversity in their workplaces and that
in selecting outside counsel they "will give significant weight to a firm's
commitment and progress in this area."

The early signatories were few in number, but included the general counsel of
America's largest and best run companies. Then, the numbers started to snowball.
So far, over 500 general counsel have signed the Statement of Principle. And,
its message has been wholeheartedly accepted by both general counsel and the law
firms that they retain. (See the interviews and articles in our Special Report
on Diversity this month and last.) This does not mean that the battle to achieve
diversity in the profession has been won - but the likelihood of victory has
been much improved because more general counsel leaders are stepping forward to
commit themselves to new diversity challenges. The general counsel featured in
the interviews on our front cover have committed themselves to a multi-pronged
effort to save the fast vanishing minority law firm, an effort that includes
enlisting the support of other general counsel and of majority law firms.

In the pro bono area targeted programs for assisting minorities are being
more fully explored. Under the leadership of Jeff Kindler, Vice Chairman and
General Counsel of Pfizer Inc., its legal department has provided support for
the work of MFY, a pro bono organization in Manhattan which, among other
activities, helps Chinese and other non-English speaking immigrants to get
governmental benefits and otherwise to assert their legal rights by providing
them with the services of lawyers who speak their languages or communicate with
them through interpreters. This too advances diversity by enabling these
disadvantaged minorities to enjoy some of the benefits to which they are
entitled.

That BellSouth was willing to support Charles' efforts, even though they were
grounded primarily on enhancing stockholder value, and not (as would have been
more consistent with his job description) on reducing the likelihood of
discrimination suits, speaks volumes for a not so subtle change that has been
taking place in corporate counsel's role - increasingly she is being looked to
by the CEO and the board for advice about how best to respond to social and
political issues that may affect shareholder value.

With globalization, general counsel are being asked about how the varying
diversity expectations in different host countries can be met by their
companies. The article on page 41 by Paul Smith, a partner at Eversheds LLP, a
very large international law firm headquartered in London and also a DuPont
Primary Law Firm, describes how Eversheds responds to such expectations.

As we have illustrated in our continuing series on "Global Corporations -
Global Citizens," general counsel are also being looked to by CEOs and boards of
global companies for advice on two issues that go to the heart of preserving
shareholder value. The first is how to assure the application of the rule of law
to their global activities. Equally important is how they can best demonstrate
to their host countries that they deserve to be treated as good citizens of
those countries. As with diversity, the law firm partners of corporate counsel
are assisting in those efforts. In the future, we hope to expand our coverage of
this developing story.

___________________________

We welcome as new law firm patrons, Eversheds LLP and Young Conaway Stargatt
& Taylor, LLP. We also look forward to publishing more fine articles and
interviews from the distinguished lawyers at Saul Ewing, which has expanded its
patron relationship with us.