Since the United States was founded, the diversity of our nation has continuously grown, a trend that will accelerate in coming years. Unfortunately, the diversity of the legal profession has failed to match this growth.
This is why Microsoft has joined legal departments and law firms from across the country to support the American Bar Association (ABA) Resolution 113 and its mission to create a legal profession that better reflects the diversity of the nation we serve.
At Microsoft, our customer base is as varied as the world itself, representing every background in this country and virtually every country on the planet. As a legal department, we understand that diversity is a business necessity. To be successful as lawyers, we must understand how to connect, communicate with, and persuade people of all races, genders, abilities and cultures. And we can’t do that unless our diversity mirrors that of our customers.
Diversity starts with law firms
Based on our experience, we believe that as diversity increases, improvements in decision-making, creativity, innovation and customer engagement follow. Like many corporate legal departments, Microsoft’s Corporate, External and Legal Affairs team views our outside counsel as a partner with and an extension of our own legal team. As a result, the business rationale that drives us to diversify our overall workforce applies to our law firms.
Yet the statistics show that the legal profession has important work to do. We have yet to see diversity gains at the leadership levels of most U.S. law firms. In 2015, only 7 percent of equity partners were minorities and just 17 percent of the equity partners were women. These numbers don’t reflect the increasing number of diverse graduates that have been coming out of our law schools for more than a decade.
At Microsoft we work closely with our law firms to promote greater diversity and inclusion. Our Law Firm Diversity Program (LFDP) and our work with law firms owned by women or minorities – or WMBE firms – have helped grow the diversity of our own legal team and promote diversity within the firms that support our business. While these programs are a step in the right direction, we recognize that we need to do more.
The role of ABA Resolution 113
We must take new steps together – as a profession – to make significant progress towards increasing diversity. This starts with setting clear, measurable goals based on strong indicators of where we stand, where we want to go and how we will get there.
ABA Resolution 113 encourages legal departments to ask law firms to complete the ABA legal model diversity survey and consider the information as a factor in deciding whether to retain a law firm for significant matters. The survey enables legal departments to measure their progress and to review the diversity data of law firms. By providing a standardized format, the survey also reduces the burden of reporting on law firms and makes it easier to compare progress between law firms and track improvements year-over-year.
We are enthusiastic in endorsing ABA Resolution 113 and hope that many other legal departments across the country will pledge their support for use the survey as a factor in managing their law firm relationships. This new resolution will help encourage new and significant steps toward building greater transparency and accountability relating to diversity. It should inspire all of us to aim higher and build a legal profession that reflects the populations we serve.