Leading General Counsel Pledge Support For Minority-Owned Law Firms - Part II

Saturday, April 1, 2006 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Catherine Lamboley, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Shell Oil and Chair, Minority Corporate Counsel Association, and Thomas Mars, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Editor: Why did you decide to participate in this effort and how will you ensure that your company meets its commitment?

Lamboley: At Shell, we see diversity and inclusiveness as a vital ingredient to ensure continued success. Shell Oil Company has a very strong commitment to Supplier Diversity and it is supported at all business levels. Within the Legal Department specifically, my job as General Counsel is to ensure that Shell receives high quality legal service. To do that, it is important to bring together a rich and diverse array of creative and critical thinking, of experiences, skills and perspectives. We then have the opportunity to capitalize on this richness and diversity and therefore to provide better legal services to Shell. Our ultimate aim is to help to access and broaden the base of talent available to Shell, which in turn broadens the base of business available to minority-owned law firms.

Diversity and inclusiveness are a part of our corporate culture and a measurable part of how we work. We will meet this commitment in a manner consistent with how we meet other commitments. We establish goals to identify what needs to be done and regularly evaluate milestones to measure how we are progressing toward the goals. Under my tenure as General Counsel, the Legal Department implemented specific metrics and a scorecard to measure and, as appropriate, increase the utilization of women and minority outside counsel doing work on Shell Legal matters. We annually provide reports to our primary firms on their effectiveness at meeting this goal and provide them with feedback on their efforts. Similarly, in our support of Minority Business Entrepreneur (MBE) firms, we have established an internal target and included this effort in overall work plans. We track the progress towards this target and inform the department about how we are doing on a regular basis. Moreover, my direct reports have aligned their individual department's goals with the organization's, including the target to utilize MBE law firms.

Our commitment will be met through continued and, as appropriate, expanded use of the MBE firms we currently do business with, including three of Shell's primary firms, which are also MBE firms. To further facilitate usage, we periodically meet with MBE firms to foster the opportunity for utilization. One example of what we have done in the past includes an event the Legal Department hosted in September 2004. We invited about 23 minority and women-owned firms to Houston to meet with our legal staff. Each firm was matched with Shell attorneys in complementary practice areas, thus allowing the opportunity to discuss their experience, staffing capabilities, and the possibilities of creating or expanding professional relationships. The event was positively received by both the firms and Shell attorneys, and many working relationships were either established or expanded after the event. Ultimately, we will meet our commitment to this effort through a combination of working toward our goals and metrics, our commitment to our primary firms, and by recognizing opportunities to work with other MBE firms.

Mars: We're very grateful that DuPont's General Counsel, Stacey Mobley, invited Wal-Mart to participate in the development of this important initiative. The experience has been very enlightening and has given us a better perspective on the importance of sustaining minority-owned law firms in the United States.

Our decision to participate was part of a larger, broader effort by our Department to create more meaningful opportunities for all lawyers of color - no matter where they practice law. For the past several years, Wal-Mart has retained minority-owned law firms for its legal work, primarily in the area of litigation. Until recently, however, we have not monitored our utilization of those firms in a manner that allows us to assess whether we are accomplishing our Department's goals in the areas of performance, cost, and diversity. Participating in this effort with industry leaders like DuPont, GM, Shell Oil and Sara Lee provided an opportunity for us to develop best practices and to drive a more strategic utilization of minority-owned law firms by Wal-Mart's Legal Department.

Some of the best legal talent in America can be found in minority-owned law firms. Therefore, there's no question in my mind that Wal-Mart will meet its financial commitment to the other participants in this initiative. Beyond our financial commitment, however, we intend to expand the number of practice areas in which we engage minority-owned law firms. We are actively identifying more minority-owned law firms to handle new matters, particularly in instances where we have decided to transition work from majority-owned law firms that have not met our expectations in the areas of performance, cost, and diversity. Wal-Mart also intends to expand and deepen its relationships with the several minority-owned law firms that are currently representing our company in litigation matters.

Editor: Given that this effort is focused on minority-owned law firms, how will it benefit society and the legal profession as a whole?

Lamboley: These two questions overlap in this case because benefiting the profession specifically also benefits society as a whole. The law interacts with each of us, including corporations, on a daily basis whether it is through regulatory schemes, jury verdicts, legal trends that impact how we do business, or rules of law that define how we function in communities. Thus, the broadness of the law's impact requires the legal profession to seek to provide the best solutions available. This is only possible by seeking that richness and broadness of diversity that I referenced before. Moreover, with the changing demographics of this country and the expectation that in 2050 this country will be minority majority, it is critical to foster excellence and talent wherever it can be found. With this in mind, there is no doubt that diversity in the legal profession is important. Using the services of minority owned law firms is a means of accessing that talent and ensuring that corporations like Shell benefit from it. At Shell, we recognize that MBE firms provide alternative professional paths for exceptional minority attorneys, and these firms provide an alternative means for Shell to take advantage of that talent. We recognize that when we increase the range of businesses from which we seek solutions, we also increase the opportunity for success, improve the quality of work we receive and enhance the outcomes we obtain. This effort benefits Shell, the profession and society as a whole.

Mars: The extent to which this initiative will have a meaningful impact remains to be seen. If nothing else, we hope this "diversity joint venture" will heighten the awareness of corporate law departments to the importance of supporting minority-owned law firms - an issue that sometimes gets put on the back burner in the broader discussions about diversity in our profession.

Five large companies working together on this issue is certainly a step in the right direction. But it's not nearly enough corporate horsepower for the task at hand. In order to preserve the important role that minority-owned law firms play in the marketplace for corporate legal services, we'll need more general counsels at the table next year.

I'm hopeful that Stacey Mobley will continue to take a leadership role in this important area of diversity and that all of us can use our influence with other corporate law departments to expand the group of participants in this joint venture. Working together with a bigger combined book of business, I'm convinced we can make a meaningful difference for the many very talented and successful lawyers who are practicing law in minority-owned law firms all across the United States.

Editors Note: DuPont, General Motors, Sara Lee, Shell Oil and Wal-Mart recently announced that they have undertaken a multifaceted initiative to increase inclusion of minority-owned law firms among those serving corporate America. The five companies involved in the effort are making a public pledge to place an aggregate of at least $16 million dollars of business with minority-owned law firms during calendar year 2006. In Part I of these interviews, we interviewed E. Christopher Johnson, Vice-President and General Counsel, GM North America, Stacey Mobley, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer, DuPont and Roderick A. Palmore, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Sara Lee Corporation. The catalyst for the initiative was a report commissioned by DuPont Legal entitled Study on the Status of Minority-Owned Law Firms in Today's Legal Environment , which revealed that the number of successful minority-owned law firms representing U.S. corporations has dwindled over the past 15 years. The chief legal officers of DuPont, General Motors, Sara Lee, Shell and Wal-Mart are also lending their support to other anticipated actions aimed at addressing some of the problems identified in the Study. These initiatives include: (1) Development of best practices to guide general counsel in driving the use of minority-owned law firms by both their in-house staffs and majority firms. (2) Creation and dissemination of a national directory of minority-owned firms with the resources and expertise required by corporate America. (3) Development of marketing and training materials and of vehicles to facilitate focused networking between minority-owned firms and corporate in-house counsel. (4) Collaboration between minority-owned law firms and majority firms on corporate matters.