BBA, Law Firms, and Corporations Coming Together on Diversity

Advancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession has long been a core element of the BBA’s mission, and we are proud to be the first metropolitan bar association to support both the ABA’s recent Resolution 113 and a commitment letter from a number of general counsel.  Both items, approved by a unanimous vote at our November 15 Council meeting, call for law firms and in-house counsel to work together in order to promote diversity in the legal profession. Our endorsement letter goes a step further: we will assemble a group of Boston leaders to develop next steps for this initiative, both locally and through other metropolitan bar associations nationally.

The ABA passed Resolution 113 at its House of Delegates meeting held August 8-9, 2016.  It reads:

RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges all providers of legal services,

including law firms and corporations, to expand and create opportunities at all levels of

responsibility for diverse attorneys; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges clients to assist in the

facilitation of opportunities for diverse attorneys, and to direct a greater percentage of the

legal services they purchase, both currently and in the future, to diverse attorneys; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, That for purposes of this resolution, “diverse attorneys” means

attorneys who are included within the ambit of Goal III of the American Bar Association.

It is accompanied by a detailed report explaining the need for the Resolution and the ABA’s role in diversity issues.  The report includes a model diversity survey asking for firm demographics in a number of categories including leadership, recent hires, and promotions.

The Resolution was supported by five national affiliated bar associations: The National Affinity Bar Association, The Hispanic National Bar Association, The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, The National Native American Bar Association, and The National LGBT Bar Association.  It was adopted unanimously.  Four individuals who worked on it spoke in favor: ABA President Dennis Archer (Dickinson Wright), Alan Bryan (Wal-Mart), Mark Roellig (former BBA Council member, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for MassMutual), and Wendy Shiba (retired corporate attorney).  Though others were lined up to voice their support, because there was no opposition, the presiding officer called for an immediate vote.

Shortly thereafter, the Resolution and model survey gained support from a group of general counsel.  In early September, the BBA received the general counsel commitment letter, signed by 24 general counsel — including five from Massachusetts companies: Susan Alexander, Biogen; Paul Dacier, EMC; Michael Parini, Vertex Pharmaceuticals; Mark Roellig, MassMutual Financial Group; and Trish Walsh, Voya Financial – and sent to all their colleagues at other Fortune 1000 companies.  This letter asks the recipient to support the following:

  1. You agree that you support ABA resolution 113;
  2. You agree that you will ask the firms that provide a significant portion of your legal services to complete the Model Survey (of course you may continue to ask these firms additional questions specific to your business and the actual attorneys that serve you);
  3. You agree that firms you currently do not retain and that are competing to handle a significant matter for your company will complete the Model Survey;
  4. You agree that the information obtained through the Model Survey will be used as a factor in determining what firms to retain or terminate in providing legal service to your company; and
  5. You agree that you will advise Keevin Woods, Director, Commission for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession at the American Bar Association, keevin.woods@americanbar.org, and Alan Bryan, Senior Associate General Counsel – Legal Operations and Outside Counsel Management for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. at alan.bryan@walmartlegal.com, that you support the above four principles, such that they can work together to maintain and publish an ongoing list of those of us that have committed to them.

In the last few months, the number of companies endorsing the Resolution has continued to grow.  Currently there are more than 50 such supporters:

ABM Industries
American Express Company
Biogen
Boise Cascade
Booz Allen Hamilton
Bristol-Myers Squibb
Capital One Financial
CBS Corporation
The Clorox Company
eBay
Echo Star
Eli Lilly
EMC
Guardian Life Insurance
The Hartford
Hess Corporation
HP Inc.
Interpublic Group
John Hancock Financial
Kodak
Lincoln Financial Group
Lockheed Martin
LPL Financial
Macy’s
Marsh & McLennan
MassMutual
MasterCard
Mattel McDonald’s
McKesson Corporation
Meritor
MetLife
Microsoft
New York Life Insurance Company
Northrop Grumman
Northwestern Mutual
One America
PepsiCo
Pitney Bowes
The Principal Financial Group
Quest Diagnostics
Rockwell Automation
Securian Financial Group
Thrivent
TIAA
Travelzoo
United Airlines
Verizon Communications
Vertex Pharmaceuticals
Varian Medical Systems
Viacom
Visa
Voya Financial
Wal-Mart Stores
The Williams Companies, Inc.

The Resolution and letter were reviewed by all BBA Section Steering Committees, the Executive Committee and Council, and was unanimously supported.  Members noted the importance (a) to the profession of being able to gather comprehensive and annual data on diversity and (b) to general counsel of being able to compare firms “apples-to-apples,” both to each other and to aggregated data standards.  They also discussed the benefits for firms, such as receiving more detailed feedback from general counsels on their hiring decisions and streamlining the process for diversity reporting.

We look forward to continuing our commitment to diversity through this initiative and to convening a group of Boston leaders for this discussion.  We are extremely proud to be leading this push with our law firm and corporate partners in the Boston community and will keep you updated on all the latest developments.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association