Facebook Joins Big-Client Push for More Diversity at Law Firms

Facebook Joins Big-Client Push for More Diversity at Law Firms

The social media giant is now requiring that women and/or ethnic minorities comprise at least one-third of the members of any legal team hired from an outside law firm to advise the company or represent it in court, Ellen Rosen writes at the New York Times’ DealBook blog:

Numbers alone, however, are not enough, under a policy that went in effect on Saturday. Law firms must also show that they “actively identify and create clear and measurable leadership opportunities for women and minorities” when they represent the company in litigation and other legal matters.

Those opportunities “include serving as relationship managers and representing Facebook in the courtroom,” Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, said in an interview. The legal department, he said, has for the last few years been working on increasing diversity at all levels.

At a time when the legal sector, particularly big law, is facing pressure to become less of an “old boy’s club” where women are often at a disadvantage, Facebook is just the latest in a line of companies that have chosen to use their considerable clout as big-ticket clients to push law firms to get serious about diversity and inclusion. Last November, PayPal issued a warning to its external legal advisers that it was reviewing their diversity credentials and might cut ties with firms that are not making significant progress. Other major companies are doing the same, Rosen points out:

MetLife says it is announcing a new policy this month; HP in February adopted a more stringent program. The moves are an acknowledgment that the numbers of women and minorities at law firms have barely budged over the past 20 years. … HP now requires its outside law firms to have at least one diverse so-called relationship partner or at least one “woman and one racially/ethnically diverse attorney each performing at least 10 percent of the billable hours worked on HP matters.” (A woman who is also a minority will cover the requirements as long as she bills the requisite 10 percent.)

In general, organizations with ambitious D&I goals are starting to pay more attention to diversity at their suppliers, not only for legal counsel but also for services such as advertising, where clients increasingly want to see work produced by teams that more closely reflect the gender balance and ethnic diversity of their customer base. For more insight into how your organization can do the same, CEB Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council members can read our recent research on how to foster D&I in legal and strengthen this partnership, and can also learn about how four organizations successfully implemented supplier diversity programs.