HRC’s Corporate Equality Index Ranks High With America’s Top Law Firms
March 25, 2009
HRC's General Counsel Rob Falk lays out an airtight argument for why law firms should not only participate in HRC's annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI) survey, but why they should actively work to rank among the highest scores. After all, as Rob writes in the March/April 2009 Minority Corporate Counsel publication Diversity & The Bar, the CEI is a tool used by many top-level managers and in-house counsel to determine which companies will benefit from their business:
In-house counsel report that they do pay attention to ratings when evaluating firms under consideration for their business, and HRC-rated law firms report that they receive positive feedback from their clients. Wayne Sobon, associate general counsel and director of intellectual property for Accenture, reports that it's extremely helpful that the CEI has been expanding the ratings of major law firms. "As a signatory to the Call to Action, Accenture is committed to diversity," he explains. "The CEI report is a tool that will help us examine where our existing legal vendors stand. It will also allow us to approach those firms who have room for improvement, so we can open up the dialogue around opportunities for advancement." Charlie Berardesco, senior vice president and general counsel of Constellation Energy Group, reports that, as a matter of course, he looks at the CEI annually to see the scores earned by the firms that he uses on a regular basis. For him, a law firm's commitment to diversity is a factor that he considers in determining whether to engage a firm in the first place, or whether the firm receives referrals for new matters. Other in-house law departments use the CEI as a tool for initiating dialogue with their outside counsel. Phillip Wells, senior vice president and general counsel of the Compass Group, relates that in his annual review of the CEI, he noticed that one of the national firms with which his company did a great deal of business scored poorly on the CEI. Upon further research, he also found the firm rated poorly for issues affecting women and other minority groups. He called the engagement partner at the firm and expressed his extreme concern regarding their performance. Within three years of that conversation, the firm dramatically improved its score on the CEI and other measures of diversity. Wells states that the CEI will be one of the metrics that his company will use in evaluating outside firms in 2009, and in holding them accountable for results. Some in-house counsel use the CEI for evaluation purposes. Kent Crowl, senior legal counsel and co-chair of Shell Oil Company's diversity council, explains, "We will be using the CEI this year as part of our diversity conversation with our outside counsel. The CEI gives us a readily available metric on how our vendors our doing in this arena, how they are doing in comparison with their competitors, and how much they value inclusiveness. Given that Shell scored 100 on the CEI, we are interested in law firms that share our values." Barbara Berish Brown, chair of Paul Hastings' Washington, D.C., office, notes that her firm participates in the CEI because diversity is an important part of the firm's culture and it helps her firm attract and retain exceptional attorneys. She states, however, that she is "always pleasantly surprised when my clients come to me and express their appreciation for our 100% score. It shows that they are paying attention to the CEI report."
The launch of the next CEI survey is less than two weeks away. Businesses with more than 500 full-time employees are eligible to participate in the CEI. For law firms, this includes partners, associates, and other full-time employees. 120 law firms were rated in the 2009 Corporate Equality Index. Sixty-four earned the top rating of 100 percent, compared to 30 the previous year, and 45 law firms earned ratings of 80 percent or above. Firms interesting in participating in the CEI should email [email protected] for more information on how to participate.
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