Reps. Cleaver, Butterfield, Kelly, Lee, Watson Coleman Seek Answers From Big Tech on Legal Diversity
Today, U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05) led a letter, along with Reps. Robin Kelly (IL-02), G.K. Butterfield (NC-01), Barbara Lee (CA-13), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), inquiring into the diversity policies and practices of Big Tech companies when hiring outside legal counsel.
In a letter to the CEOs of ten of the largest U.S. tech companies by revenue, the Representatives are asking for detailed statistics on diversity within their outside counsel and policies already in place to ensure they are being represented by law firms with a wide array of viewpoints and backgrounds. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, law is one of the least racially diverse professions in the nation.
"Outside counsel often serve as subject matter experts on issues deeply affecting this nation's varied populations, and the indispensable perspective afforded by diverse teams is critical to good governance and foresight," the lawmakers wrote. "We have been pleased to see some companies take concentrated steps to increase the percentage of legal spend on diverse teams of outside counsel, including those who have signed the American Bar Association's Resolution 113. However, we are also frustrated that some companies who have failed to anticipate the full effect of their products and services have also failed to seek sufficiently diverse advice."
"Sadly, much like the technology industry, the legal profession is acutely underrepresented when it comes to minorities and women," said Congressman Cleaver. "These are some of the most powerful and influential companies in the world. It is imperative that the Big Tech companies are implementing policies that make certain they are being represented by diverse and inclusive legal teams, giving them more perspective on how their platforms and business innovations affect the multitude of diverse populations in the country and around the world."
"The tech industry has an ever-increasing impact on everyone's daily lives, and it has become inextricable from the ways we communicate, receive news, and even purchase goods and services. With that level of influence, these companies must ensure that diverse perspectives are present in their decision making at every point in their organizational structures -- and that includes the firms they hire for legal counsel," said Rep. Watson Coleman.
"There have been countless studies highlighting the benefits and vital importance of diversity and inclusion in every institution and industry. There continues to be a need to increase efforts of diversity and inclusion, and this need is particularly underscored in the least diverse profession in the nation--the legal profession," said Congressman Butterfield. "Many companies have made significant strides in addressing the need for diversity within the ranks of leadership and employment; but it is imperative that these and other companies acknowledge this same need when seeking legal representation. It is my hope that we can work together to manifest a commitment to greater diversity in corporate retention of legal counsel."
"The lack of diverse hiring and failure to create an inclusive and supportive corporate culture in tech companies has caused large problems -- both in and out of the tech industry," said Rep. Lee. "We're now seeing how the lack of diverse legal teams limit the background and viewpoints needed when dealing with issues that arise. It is essential that these companies advocate directly for more diverse hiring, including holding firms that do not meet diversity standards financially accountable."
Questions the lawmakers are seeking answers to include:
1) Does your company evaluate legal diversity within your supplier diversity program? If not, is there a separate program for evaluation of diverse outside legal spend?
2) What specific criteria does your company consider when measuring a law firm's diversity performance?
3) Do these criteria extend into the selection process for determining your company's relationship attorney at a law firm?
4) What percentage of your company's outside legal spend last year went to teams determined to be diverse? By what specific definition?
5) What percentage of your company's outside legal spend last year went to women and/or minority owned firms?
6) How does your company reward and/or penalize firms for compliance?
7)What formal commitments, targets, or goals has your company made, or does your company plan to make, regarding contracting with diverse outside legal teams?
The letter was sent to the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, IBM, Dell, Intel, HP, Cisco, and Facebook.