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Aug. 5 — Microsoft Corp. is making changes to its law firm diversity program, which provides incentives to participating law firms that increase their overall diversity or the diversity of lawyers that work with the company.
As part of an Aug. 4 White House event, the technology company announced that its seven-year old program will shift its focus to rewarding diversity in law firm leadership. “We think it’s important that not only the associates working on our matters are diverse, but so are the partners and client relationship owners,” Mary Snapp, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel, told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 5 e-mailed statement. “This ‘setting the tone from the top' approach sends a message that leaders value diversity and inclusion and provides younger diverse lawyers with role models and mentors.”
“It’s important to make progress at the leadership level to drive a culture of inclusion,” she added. “It’s easier to make progress among associates than among the leadership at firms and the data indicates there is a lot of progress yet to be made at the leadership levels.”
In an Aug. 4 blog post, Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, wrote that “the large majority of participating law firms have earned their bonus not just once but repeatedly, with over 80 percent of the firms earning their bonuses annually,” he continued. “As a result, since 2008 the participating firms have increased the percentage of hours worked by diverse lawyers on Microsoft matters from 33.6 percent to 48.2 percent.”
Myriad studies have documented the under-representation of women and minorities in top-level jobs within the legal profession, such as law firm partners. The tech sector also has been a source of constant criticism regarding the lack of diversity among its employees.
“We believe that corporations can and should help lead the way,” Snapp told BBNA.
Under the new approach, Microsoft's Premier Preferred Provider law firms have an opportunity to earn a bonus between 0.5 percent to 2 percent of the legal fees billed to the company, which is a change from its previous all-or-nothing approach.
1) leading the management of the law firm;
2) leading the law firm’s relationship with Microsoft; and
3) leading Microsoft’s legal matters.
In addition to the 2 percent bump in legal fees, the new program provides the highest achieving firm with an additional bonus of 1 percent of the firm's legal fees, along with public recognition by Microsoft.
Dan Waggoner, co-chair of Davis Wright Tremaine LLC's Communications, Media & Information Technology Practice, and a relationship partner for Microsoft, said in an e-mailed statement to BBNA that “the updated version of the diversity program appropriately shifts the focus from having diverse lawyers working on Microsoft’s matters to advancing diverse attorneys to partnership and leadership positions within the firm.”
Companies in the technology sector have faced chronic criticism over the lack of diversity in leadership positions.
In his first shareholder meeting last December as chief executive officer of Microsoft, Satya Nadella emphasized that diversity matters and that the company will continue to make progress in creating a more diverse workforce. However, Nadella's message followed a gaffe he made at a conference on women and technology, when he said women shouldn't agitate for raises and should instead rely on good karma. He later apologized for the remark.
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