Microsoft has overhauled a program for promoting diversity at the law firms it works with, to promote higher representation for lawyers of different minority groups in the firms' leadership ranks.
The company's Law Firm Diversity Program has been changed to offer bonuses to 15 law firms it works with, based on how many attorneys in positions of power are female, from racial and ethnic minorities, openly LGBT, people with disabilities or military veterans.
Microsoft started the program 7 years ago and originally offered firms a 2 percent bonus on their billings if a set percentage of the hours they billed to the company were worked by diverse attorneys.
Over the course of the program, the percentage of hours attorneys from diverse groups worked on Microsoft tasks rose from 33.6 percent in 2008 to 48.2 percent in 2015. The company found that the program encouraged firms to put diverse attorneys to work on its projects, but Mary Snapp, a corporate vice president and deputy general counsel, said that shift didn't drive much firm-wide change.
"The other piece that we found, was that until the very last year and just this last year, the demographics of the law firms themselves did not change -- I wouldn't even say significantly -- they did not really change at all to become broadly more diverse," she said.
Snapp was quick to add that there could be a variety of explanations for the lack of movement on diversity metrics, including things like reduced hiring at large law firms during the U.S. financial crisis. She views the new system as the "next step" for the work by Microsoft's legal department to promote diversity with its partners.
The new leadership-focused program is based on Microsoft's belief that law firms "set the tone at the top" when it comes to showing that they value diversity and inclusion through diverse representation in their partner ranks. What's more, having broad representation in a firm's upper echelons means that young lawyers will have people like them to look up to at a firm.
Under the new system, firms will earn points for meeting certain objectives and can earn up to a 2 percent bonus on their annual billings based on the number of points earned. In addition, the firm with the most points will get an additional 1 percent bonus on their billings. The objectives include having more than one in four members of a firm's management committee come from members of the identified minority groups and having diverse partners work on more than 35 percent of overall hours spent on Microsoft matters.
The law firms eligible to participate in the program have generally been supportive of Microsoft's changes, Snapp said. Beth A. Wilkinson, a partner with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, is one of the outside lawyers supporting the changes.
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