In a growing cry for racial justice in America, Phillips Kaiser launched The Legacy Project for businesses who value legal counsel from diverse legal teams.
It is no secret that corporate law firms have fallen behind other organizations in creating diverse environments where minority voices are fairly represented. A recent article in Bloomberg highlighted how large companies are now pressuring the corporate law sector to be more inclusive.
The article highlights the diversity gap, citing research that shows only 10% of partners at U.S. firms are people of color. In addition, according to the American Bar Association’s 2020 Profile of the Legal Profession, only 5% of lawyers are African American, 5% are Latinx, 2% are Asian, and 1.3% are Native American.
Companies like Facebook and HP, Inc. demand that law firms do better. HP has instituted a policy to withhold a portion of the law firm’s fees if the team doesn’t include at least one racially diverse attorney handling 10% of the work. Facebook requires that half the lawyers on its external legal teams be diverse and is also considering a fee penalty for firms that fail to meet this guideline.
Before companies like this realized their buying power and started getting involved in diversity efforts in this way, Phillips Kaiser was already thinking about how to diversify their team-an issue that has always been front of mind for the partners.
“Other than my own firm, I probably haven’t worked with more than five minority lawyers on a transaction in my career,” says partner Craig Kaiser. “This is something we need to deal with.”
MONIQUE STEELE POWELL
A diverse team is a creative team. When there is only one type of person sitting around the conference room table, worldviews are limited and, therefore, so are solutions. When the room is filled with different types of people, it is filled with different types of worldviews and life experiences. This naturally lends itself to better problem solving, more empathetic responses and understanding, and ultimately a stronger workforce, able to provide well-rounded legal counsel and advice for an array of companies.
This is something companies like Facebook and HP are realizing too. When they have diverse representation on their legal teams, they can be confident their legal issues are being addressed from every angle possible, ultimately leading to the best solution possible.
In a country that struggles to elevate diverse voices and in a sector of law that has long been majority male and white, a diverse workforce will not happen naturally or accidentally. It must be an intentional, concentrated effort. This is what Phillips Kaiser has strived for.
In 2021, Phillips Kaiser launched The Legacy ProjectThe Legacy Project-a program dedicated to not only hiring but developing minority lawyers for success in the corporate law sector. The program allows minority lawyers to work for Phillips Kaiser while undergoing targeted training in organizational awareness, standard of service requirements, personal development, measurable goal-setting and more.
While many firms focus on hiring diverse lawyers, they often fail to retain those lawyers who are either hired away or who don’t feel their values align with what can be a very homogenous work culture. The goal of The Legacy Project is to change that, and it is uniquely poised to do so.
“We’ve worked in all aspects of law,” says partner Greg Phillips, who’s been practicing for more than 30 years and was the only African American on his team at his first job with a large firm. “We’ve practiced in big firms and big companies. We’ve been law firm creators. We’ve managed lawyers. We think we can really put a diverse story on the table.”
The Legacy Project has already made its first two hires, attorneys Monique Steele Powell and Ashlee Boswell, and the project has already garnered attention from large corporations who understand the value of a diverse legal team.
As major U.S. companies continue to put heat on corporate firms to diversify their staff, we’re proud at Phillips Kaiser to be a part of that important effort. We’re proud to be building a racially and gender diverse team, and we hope more law firms will follow suit.