Five of America's leading corporations have 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 - DuPont, General Motors, Sara Lee, Shell Oil and Wal-Mart - 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.The $16 million represents a substantial increase over the combined amount of business the companies have historically placed with minority-owned firms in a year.
The catalyst for the initiative was a study commissioned by DuPont Legal, which revealed that the number of successful minority-owned law firms representing U.S. corporations has dwindled over the past 15 years. The report, titled Study on the Status of Minority-Owned Law Firms in Today's Legal Environment, cites limited access to corporate counsel, perceived inexperience, and racial bias, among other factors, as obstacles preventing minority-owned law firms from obtaining work from Fortune500 companies.
In late 2004, Stacey J. Mobley, DuPont senior vice president and general counsel, and Thomas L. Sager, DuPont vice president and assistant general counsel, convened an intensive forum aimed at devising the strategies required to promote corporate access for firms owned by attorneys of color. The forum included minority law firm owners, minority attorneys at majority firms, general counsel, managing partners from majority firms, and representatives from the American Bar Association, the national minority bar associations, corporate counsel associations and the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms. It resulted in a specific action plan.
Along with their commitment to direct an aggregate of $16 million in business to minority-owned law firms in 2006, the chief legal officers of DuPont, General Motors, Sara Lee, Shell and Wal-Mart are lending their support to other anticipated actions aimed at addressing some of the problems identified in the Study on the Status of Minority-Owned Law Firms. These initiatives include:
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.
Creation and dissemination of a national directory of minority-owned firms with the resources and expertise required by corporate America.
Development of marketing and training materials and of vehicles to facilitate focused networking between minority-owned firms and corporate in-house counsel.
Collaboration between minority-owned law firms and majority firms on corporate matters.