Editor: What are some of the characteristics of the Southeast's legal community?
McLaurin: There are many Fortune 500 companies with substantial in-house legal departments located in the Southeast, including BellSouth, Home Depot, Cox Communications, Coca-Cola, Delta, Office Depot, Carnival, Ryder System and UPS. These legal departments tend to use law firms with strong local, regional, national and global presence for their work.
There is a high concentration of minority professionals (in both law and business communities) in the Southeast. However, notwithstanding the high concentration of minority professionals, there is low representation of minority attorneys in top legal roles in corporations and law firms located in the region.
On the other hand, the large population of African Americans in Atlanta and Hispanics in Miami has resulted in a number of minority-owned businesses that have a strong interest in their ability to work with a diverse group of attorneys. Consistent with the demographics, the region is served by a number of minority bar associations at the local, state and regional levels.
Editor: Please give an example or two of the initiatives that have helped to promote diversity within the region's in-house legal departments.
McLaurin: In 1999, BellSouth's then General Counsel Charles Morgan authored the Statement of Principle on Diversity in the Workplace. We commonly refer to it as the Statement. As a result of Charles' effort to foster diversity, at least 500 other general counsel signed the Statement to indicate that diversity is a paramount interest for their law departments and the firms that serve them. This important initiative coming out of the Southeast has had a tremendous impact on the nation's entire legal community.
In 2004, Rick Palmore, Sara Lee's General Counsel, took the Statement a step further. His Call to Action says that signatories intend to end or limit their relationships with firms whose performance consistently evidences a lack of meaningful interest in being diverse.
Editor: Have the region's law firms been involved in these diversity initiatives as well?
McLaurin: Absolutely. They have done some wonderful and exciting things. One example was coming together with bar associations and corporations to form the Atlanta Legal Diversity Consortium, Inc. (ALDC). Through this nonprofit organization, they collaborate in supporting other groups' programs, disseminating information, and hosting panels and symposia that bring the importance of diversity to the forefront in the Atlanta community and Southeast region.
Among its many successful events, ALDC hosted a half-day symposium with MCCA and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) last June in Atlanta. The symposium focused on Rick's Call to Action. More than 400 attendees came from all over the country. The general counsel panelists who led the main session included Jim Hatcher, Cox Communications; Michelle Coleman Mayes, Pitney Bowes; Tom Mars, Wal-Mart, and Guy Rounsaville, VISA International. Jim Potter, Del Monte's general counsel (and MCCA board member), delivered the keynote. Other participants included Teri McClure, who is now general counsel of UPS, as well as in-house counsel from DuPont, Cingular and BellSouth. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin addressed the reception to highlight the importance of a diverse legal community.
Another initiative is the Atlanta Large Law Firm Diversity Alliance (Alliance) which, in conjunction with the American Institute for Managing Diversity, launched the first comprehensive diversity management educational program designed specifically for large law firm leaders. The Alliance was formed by 11 law firms, many who are also founding members of ALDC.
Editor: Please tell our readers about your new leadership role in promoting diversity throughout the Southeast's legal community.
McLaurin: I am excited to be the MCCA's Managing Director for the Southeast Region. Among my responsibilities, I'll be working directly with the Lloyd M. Johnson scholars by helping to place them in internship programs and advance their professional development. I'll also participate in diversity seminars throughout the region. For example, in April, I'll moderate a corporate counsel panel on the relevance of diversity in the Deep South sponsored by the Hinds County Bar Association in Jackson, MS.
I'll also service existing MCCA members and establish new relationships, highlight MCCA's Creating Pathways to Diversity Research Studies, and serve as a local resource to the region's in-house counsel, bar associations, law schools, and law firms.