The most sweeping corporate legal department effort ended in a fizzle when Coca-Cola GC Bradley Gayton was out after three months and the company scrambled to denounce his diversity overtures in a bid to appease racist shareholders threatening to sue. But that doesn’t mean in-house lawyers aren’t still taking action and using their power as clients to advance the cause… at least on some level.
Onit continues to release more from its Enterprise Legal Reputation report (compiled by Provoke Insights). With over 4,500 respondents, the report provides a comprehensive look at the mood of the in-house legal world. Last month, chapter one of the report showed that, when it comes down to it, companies still don’t quite trust their own lawyers. Chapter two gives us a lot more to chew on, including some interesting insights about diversity.
Make no mistake, the numbers aren’t as robust as one would hope, but over half — 52 percent — of legal respondents reported their companies are prioritizing vendor diversity. These efforts to vote with their wallets reflects the increasing acceptance of projects like what Microsoft’s famously been doing with its outside counsel and what Coca-Cola tried to do.
But this slim majority taking vendor diversity seriously highlights exactly where companies are tripping up.
That said, the percentage of companies prioritizing vendor diversity overshadows its efforts to diversify their own ranks. Only two in five (38%) legal professionals acknowledged diverse hiring prioritization in their companies. In other words, legal departments are leading the way by focusing on vendor diversity more than their companies are prioritizing diversity in their own corporate hiring.
Only 22 percent of US-based legal professionals reported that their departments prioritize DEI within the group (the UK leads on this score, but with only 38 percent).
In defense of the legal departments, law firms remain the primary training ground for young lawyers and improving diversity in the profession has to run through firms before it gets in-house.
But that gap is still too significant to overlook. It’s got a real “I care passionately about diversity until it’s in my neighborhood” feel to it that needs to be nipped in the bud quickly. It’s not doing the profession any favors if legal departments get complacent and celebrate promoting diversity “out there” without ever bringing it inside the group. The profession isn’t really diverse if some of its best jobs remain inaccessible.
There’s more in this ELR report worth talking about, so stay tuned this week for more discussion. And, of course, check it out on your own in the meantime.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.