To Diversify Their Outside Counsel, Clients Should Think Beyond Big Law

April 1, 2022

Women’s history month is coming to a close, and I’m reading a story about Coca-Cola struggling to figure out a way to diversify its outside counsel. Last year, newly appointed Coca-Cola General Counsel Bradley Gayton announced a requirement that outside law firms staff at least 30% of new matters with diverse attorneys. This resulted in threatened shareholder lawsuits, and Gayton was removed from the GC role. Now, Bloomberg reports that the new GC, Monica Howard Douglas, backed away from the proposed requirements, stating that they “have not been and are not a policy,” but that  Coca-Cola is “committed to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession.”

We all know this circular battle. It starts with good intentions to increase the diversity of thought, voices, and opportunity in the legal field. Then, a reach for some improvement; a large consumer demanding their legal service providers meet their diversity expectations. Then, push back, and a struggle for implementation in this world that doesn’t work like Econ 101 where demand can change supply. In the end, no real change, so much expended effort, fatigue, conflict and disconnection. 

The simple reality is that big law firms are structured to filter out diverse voices. We know this, as is shown by Bloomberg's chart below, despite all of the women’s inclusion groups, initiatives, and symposiums on the topic–nothing has changed the diversity of big law firm partnership in a decade. 

Source: Bloomberg

It’s time to rebuild the system. When I joined Scale in 2019, I could not have imagined the incredible growth we would experience. One of the most delightful aspects of that growth has been how easy it is to recruit talented female attorneys who are advising on cutting edge legal issues for their clients. We don’t attract this talent by offering higher bonuses or shiny offices. 

We’re attractive to female attorneys because: (1) our lean operations passes through a relatively greater portion of fees to attorneys, allowing the flexibility and work life balance that’s structurally impossible at big law firms; (2) we’re focused on building a culture of collegiality that’s supported by aligned financial incentives for us collaborate. On my recruiting calls with female partners, it gives me pride to be able to answer all their questions authentically and with real solutions to their problems. 

The proof is in the numbers: Scale is 53% female partners. If Coca-Cola is looking for outside counsel to meet their 30% diversity commitment, give me a call.

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