Throughout this decade, an important element of Microsoft’s legal diversity efforts has involved work with law firms that are owned by women or minorities – or WMBE firms as they are often called. I’m pleased to share that we’ve reached an important milestone in this area. Since 2010, we’ve spent more than $100 million with women- and minority-owned law firms (WMBE). This spend not only represents the valuable contributions made by these firms to our business, but signifies Microsoft’s deep engagement with law firms owned and operated by underrepresented groups in the legal profession.
This is an important time to support WMBE law firms. Despite an uptick in law school enrollment among women and minorities, the legal profession in the United States has not kept pace with the growing diversity of our nation, particularly at the most senior levels of law firms.
According to Law360’s 2015 Minority Report, more than 20 percent of U.S. law school enrollees have been minorities over the past decade, yet only 7 percent of equity partners at U.S. law firms are minorities. And less than 1 percent of those partners are African-American. The picture is not much brighter for women. While 33.5 percent of U.S. law firm attorneys are female, women comprise only 21.7 percent of law firm partners, according to Law 360’s 2015 Glass Ceiling Report.
This stubborn progress is one reason Microsoft helped establish the Inclusion Initiative, a collaborative effort of 30 U.S. companies spearheaded by the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) to increase the retention of women and minority owned law firms. Our hope is that building strong ties with WMBE firms will enrich our business, but help these small firms grow and offer broader leadership opportunities for diverse talent.
Kari Annand is one of those lawyers. As a principal of Snodgrass Annand PLLC, Kari credits her firm’s work with global brands like Microsoft for the robust growth of her small practice. She found it difficult to compete for corporate business against bigger, more established firms, but Microsoft’s commitment to WMBE firms opened a door that has helped her business flourish.
Our work with firms like Snodgrass Annand has made us better lawyers. These diverse teams bring experience, perspectives and creativity into our business that help us better understand and connect with legislators, regulators and customers around the world.
Spending $100 million on WMBE firms is an important milestone, and we’re proud of the work we’ve done to promote stronger diversity within the legal profession, but there is more to do. That’s why we will continue to invest in Microsoft’s Law Firm Diversity Program to encourage greater diversity among the leadership and partner levels at law firms and participate in pipeline initiatives such as the Gregoire Fellows Program.
Our hope is our work to promote diversity in the legal profession will ensure that talented, diverse lawyers are not only in the courtroom and at the deal table, but sitting in the first chair.