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.
Four percent is a very small portion of a whole. And it’s unfortunately a percentage that people concerned about diversity and inclusion in the legal profession know well because it represents the percentage of Hispanic attorneys in the United States. This indicates the legal profession is not keeping pace with the diversity of this country, as Hispanic people represent more than 17 percent of the U.S. population.
How do we make progress on increasing the representation of Hispanic lawyers in the profession? There are many paths, but one that Microsoft has invested in, with positive results, is to help support law students who are trying to make their way into law careers. Now that Hispanic Heritage Month has begun, we wanted to share more about our work in this important area.
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.
A year ago, Microsoft announced a significant change to our Law Firm Diversity Program (LFDP), which now focuses on increasing diversity among the partner and leadership ranks of the law firms in our premier provider network, and provides financial incentives to those firms who show improvement in these areas. We are pleased to report significant progress by all our firms, and we especially want to recognize our top performers – K&L Gates, LLP; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LP; and Perkins Coie LP.
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).
Since we launched this Program in 2008, we’ve provided the participating firms a bonus at the end of our fiscal year equal to 2 percent of that year’s fees if they reach a quantifiable diversity goal, either becoming more diverse as a firm or more diverse on the work they do for us. We believe the time has come now to move our program to its next generation by incentivizing and working with major law firms across the country to increase diversity among the firms’ partners and leadership ranks.
To better understand how Microsoft’s Department of Legal and Corporate Affairs could best support disability diversity in our own field, we commissioned a modest study to identify the most significant challenges facing people with disabilities in the legal profession and the profession’s pipeline. While existing data sets vary, the BWB Solutions research that we commissioned confirms that despite the prevalence of disability in the general population, people with disabilities are among the most underrepresented in the legal field.
The University of Washington School of Law announced the Gregoire Fellows program aimed at helping to attract diverse college graduates to attend law school, and in particular the University of Washington. We hope to learn from this pilot program, and to increase the diversity of the lawyers in Puget Sound region. Microsoft is a proud participant and sponsor. The full list of participants demonstrates just how important improving diversity in the legal profession is to our region and state.
By 2042, the U.S. population is projected to be “majority minority,” and no one race or ethnicity will any longer be the majority in America. While America increasingly reflects the extraordinarily diverse people and cultures from around the world, the legal profession does not.
Unless the legal profession makes faster progress, it will miss the dynamism and creativity that diversity brings to other fields. We risk failure in having a profession that is as diverse as the country we serve – a prerequisite for healthy legal service for a democracy.