Chicago Law Bulletin Article on the Institute

05 Aug 2010 10:00 AM | Sandra Yamate (Administrator)

July 30, 2010 Volume: 156 Issue: 148
Institute seeks answers to firm diversity issues

By Maria Kantzavelos
Law Bulletin staff writer

If you lead a corporation's law department, what percentage of your legal spend last year went to racial and ethnic minorities who were leading matters for you in large law firms?

If you're a member of your law firm's management, about what percentage of your firm's gross revenues were received from clients who ask about the diversity of your lawyers or your diversity efforts?

If you're a partner in a law firm, what is your racial or ethnic background? Have you personally received any business from corporations that have expressed their commitment to or preference for diversity among their outside counsel?

The newly formed, Chicago-based Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession is seeking answers to these questions, and more, as part of a study launched Friday that aims to weigh the answer to a bigger question: Is the business case for diversity within the legal profession working?

The Business Case for Diversity study involves a three-pronged, online survey of the attitudes and practices of general counsels, law firm management and partners at law firms.

"We know that the business case for diversity is something that's been talked about and addressed, and people have worked on it very hard, for a couple of decades," said Sandra S. Yamate, the institute's CEO. "And yet, for some reason, we're still not seeing the kinds of progress that one would expect."

The definition of the so-called business case for diversity, Yamate said, is: "The notion that clients value diversity and therefore are finding ways to include that value in any determinations of the qualifications of lawyers to do their work - that it makes for good business for them."

The three versions of the survey, available online through Dec. 31, asks questions about how corporations choose to allocate their budget for diverse outside counsel; how law firm management determines whether there is any correlation between a firm's diversity efforts and business generation; and about the actual revenue amounts generated from corporate clients by law firm partners who are women, racial or ethnic minorities, lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transsexuals, or partners who are disabled.

The institute hopes to explore whether the business case for diversity is working in its current form and, "if it's not working, why not? And then, how can we fix it if it's not working?" Yamate said.

"If you have corporate clients saying: 'The problem is, we want diverse outside counsel and yet the law firms are not giving us the kind of diversity we want,' and the law firms say: 'We're trying our best, but even when we do have diverse lawyers we're not necessarily seeing more business as a result of that,' and then the diverse lawyers are saying: 'We're bringing this diversity but we don't necessarily see clients giving us more work,' it becomes a conundrum in terms of why doesn't it work," Yamate said.

She said the study is unique in that it will attempt to measure how much clients are actually spending on diversity in law firms, how much business law firms feel they can attribute to diversity, and how much business diverse lawyers are actually seeing.

"Rather than just relying on all the anecdotes, we're hoping that this study is going to allow us to actually get some data on what's happening," Yamate said.

The institute was launched in June with a mission to address the lack of diversity in the legal profession in a more comprehensive way, said Yamate, a founder. The organization, which is based at the headquarters of the Chicago Bar Association, 321 S. Plymouth Court, is comprised of lawyers and judges from Illinois and around the country.

"We are not specifically targeting a particular gender or racial group, we are not targeting a particular practice area. We're really trying to look at the entire profession in a comprehensive fashion," Yamate said.

Marc S. Firestone, general counsel at Kraft Foods North America Inc., serves as the institute's chairman.

In a written statement, Firestone commented on the purpose of the study launched by the institute on Friday.

"Corporations and law firms don't yet have a shared commitment to diversity. Sometimes the clients put too much of the burden on the firms and sometimes the firms question the sincerity of their clients. And it's far from clear that both see eye-to-eye on the mutual business benefits from inclusiveness," Firestone said in the statement. "This study should provide deeper, and perhaps novel, insights into these and other critical aspects of the effort to increase diversity in the profession."

The use of the word "inclusion" in the institute's name is significant, Yamate said.

"That's because we want to make sure our approach in our mission includes everybody," Yamate said. "So that straight white men have a role in the work we're doing as much as anyone else. With the institute, we want to make sure they understand they are part of the profession and have a role to play in trying to enhance the diversity of the profession."

More information about the organization can be found at

The survey is available for participation at the following online addresses.

*For corporations,;

*For law firm management,;

*For law firm partners who are either women, or racial or ethnic minorities, LGBT, or disabled,

The results of the survey and an analysis of the study is expected to be released in Fall 2011.

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