Diverse Legal Departments Are Within Reach, Says Former GC

Source: Corporate Counsel

By Jennifer Williams-Alvarez, Corporate Counsel

It's no secret that law is one of the least diverse professions in the United States. While corporate law departments may be doing better than firms, there's still a lot of room for improvement. According to Paul Williams, a former chief legal officer who now spends his days as a recruiter for legal departments, it's not at all unrealistic to expect diversity in-house.

"I disagree with those who might say that it's impossible to find diverse talent for legal department roles," says Williams, the ex-CLO of the health care company Cardinal Health Inc., who became a partner at the recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa 11 years ago. "It's really just a function of making it a priority. And if you do that, you can make it happen."

Williams says his tenure at Cardinal Health is proof of this. During his 10 years at the company, he was able to create a department that was a third ethnically diverse and about half women. "Even 11 years ago, because I made diversity a priority, I was able to build a very, very diverse legal department," he says.

Williams became a recruiter because he wanted to replicate that success elsewhere, he says. He says that he views recruiters as "the gatekeepers for the profession." Of the roughly 200-300 placements a year made by MLA, roughly 40 to 50 percent are people of color and about 60 percent are women. And with each diverse candidate that's placed, there's the potential to drive change in the department, Williams says. "I see people assuming very, very visible roles and as a result, that makes it a little bit easier to bring about change in the roles below those individuals," he says. "To the extent that the leader of a department is diverse or sensitive to diversity, that makes it easier to recruit diverse individuals."

While Williams says there is a lot more to be done, he also strikes an optimistic tone. "I do believe that slowly but surely, particularly on the in-house side, that we are making progress," he says. "I'm very confident that five years from now, there will be considerably more general counsel of Fortune 500 as well as Fortune 1,000 companies who will be ethnically diverse and who are women."

Read more of this article at Corporate Counsel.


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