Recognizing this year’s top performer in Microsoft’s Law Firm Diversity Program

Over the past nine years, Microsoft has worked closely with our law firm partners to advance diversity in the legal profession through our Law Firm Diversity Program (LFDP). We began in 2008 with a few core beliefs that hold true today: that diversity in our legal teams is a business necessity and delivers better business results; that accountability can accelerate progress on this important issue; and that when we work with our law firms, we all get better together.

The LFDP relies on a carrot, rather than a stick, approach. Through annual bonuses, we incentivize our partner firms to focus on and improve the diversity of those that not only work on, but lead, our Microsoft matters, as well as within their leadership structures. We’ve found that this approach makes it clear that we not only value diversity and pay attention to this when we hire firms, but also that we’re here to work with them to improve together. And we’ve seen that this approach works — since 2008, the percent of hours worked by diverse lawyers on Microsoft matters has increased 20 percent, from 33.6 percent to 54.1 percent. In the first two years of our new focus on leadership, we have seen measurable increases in the diversity of management committees and partner composition.  And in this time, our own department has grown more diverse, and we’ve become stronger as a department and company as well.

Today, I am proud to recognize Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe as this year’s top performer. All of our firms earned a bonus, but in the past year, Orrick has increased diverse leadership the most across the three areas in which we have focused: diversity in partnership composition, among Microsoft relationship partners and those working on Microsoft matters.

What makes Orrick’s win this year even more notable is that this is the second year in a row that Orrick has been named a top performer in the LFDP. Indeed, they have perennially been at or near the top of participating firms since we began the program. So, this year, in addition to recognizing their achievements, we also wanted to share some of their insights and learnings to help all of us working on these issues learn and grow.

We recently sat down with Mark Parris, a partner at Orrick, to learn more about their approach, program and progress. An edited transcript of that conversation is below.

Q:  Orrick has a strong reputation and track record when it comes to diversity. Why is this so important to the firm?

A:  Diversity and inclusion is a core value, and an imperative for Orrick for three reasons. It’s important to our clients, like Microsoft, so it’s a client imperative. We believe it’s a business imperative, in that to be successful in a global market, you need to bring diverse perspectives to the issues and the solutions. And finally, we believe that in addition to making our clients and business stronger, fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace and across the legal profession is a moral imperative and the right thing to do.  It makes us better and stronger as a firm. All of our work is linked to and built on that foundation.

Q:  How does that imperative translate into programs and initiatives within Orrick?

A:  Orrick has devoted a lot of thought, time, attention and resources to advancing diversity and inclusion. We have created many initiatives and programs of which we’re very proud, including our nearly 25-year-old, firm-wide Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. When we established the initiative, it was one of the first in a major law firm. We set up our program with a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve with our efforts, built a strategy designed to make progress against those goals and better attract, retain and support diverse talent, and then built accountability into the program to track progress over time. Within that structured approach, we gave our leaders a lot of flexibility – we learned very quickly that listening and adapting were important parts of accountability and progress.

Q:  You mentioned that this has long been important to the firm. What did your program look like when you started, and has it changed over the years?

A:  The program has grown in scope and size. It’s grown over time to include regional committees, affinity groups and forums for parents and veterans as well. But perhaps the most important adjustment we’ve made is how we think about diversity and inclusion efforts. It started with attract and retain. But we have realized that’s an incomplete way to structure a program — you must attract, retain and enable success. That meant we needed to go beyond a standard mentoring program to include a sponsor, who is accountable for coaching our diverse lawyers and serving as an advocate as new professional or advancement opportunities open up. A critical responsibility of sponsors is helping diverse and women lawyers develop relationships — both at Orrick and with our clients. And it meant that we needed to pay more attention to diversity at our senior levels, so Microsoft’s renewed focus on diverse leadership in the LFDP is well aligned with what we are seeking to do.

As part of our continuing effort to refine and enhance our program we recently brought on board Joi Bourgeois to lead our global diversity efforts. Joi is a former corporate lawyer with 16 years of experience as an executive coach. She will also work directly with our clients.

Q:  Orrick already had a strong program. Do incentive programs like the LFDP play any role in law firms progress on this issue?

A:  Clients are incredibly important in supporting and expanding law firm efforts on diversity. When companies like Microsoft make it clear that they factor diversity and inclusion in their hiring efforts, and will reward performance, it changes the way firms approach the work and the issue. For Orrick, it reinforces and accelerates our own work, and makes it clear that there’s a business case for diversity and inclusion. When we look at this from a business perspective, we ask three questions. What’s the need of the client? What resources do we have to meet those needs? And how are we communicating with the client to show that we’re meeting their needs? When the client need includes diversity, it enhances those conversations at our firm or any firm looking to do business with a large company like Microsoft.

Q:  What is your advice to a firm just starting out with a diversity initiative, or for one whose progress has stalled?

A:  The phrase, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” comes to mind. First, define why your company cares about diversity and inclusion — what is the business case and return on investment for this work? Then, structure a program that is centered on that tenet. Finally, establish clear, defined and measurable goals.

The mission statement gets everyone aligned and bought in to the program. Setting measurable goals allows you to track progress over time. That way, you can see what’s working well, what needs more work and hold leaders accountable for that progress.

Most importantly, look, listen and learn from others, both in and out of the legal profession, who are doing well. Microsoft is an excellent example of a company that facilitates relationship building for diverse and women employees, including lawyers. We’ve learned a lot from working with Microsoft and look forward to ongoing progress — together.

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