On Tuesday, April 24, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), through its Commercial and Federal Litigation Section, presented Smooth Moves 2012: Career Strategies for Attorneys of Color. The CLE portion of the event was entitled: “Views from the Corner Office: Diverse GCs Discuss How to Get There and How to Win Their Business.”
The moderator was Hon. Stephen C. Robinson, Partner at Skadden Arps and former judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
When Judge Robinson turned to the question of how to get the business of the prominent GCs who were on the panel, he asked how important diversity was in getting hired.
Don Liu, Senior Vice President, Secretary and GC at Xerox Corporation replied that with Xerox’s strong leadership on issues of diversity, Xerox placed a high premium on diversity in deciding which outside counsel to retain.
At that point, Sandra Leung, GC and Corporate Secretary at Bristol-Myers Squibb, turned to Don and said, “Let me challenge you a bit on that. Do you mean to tell me that if you had a bet-the-company case and the only lawyer who can win the case for you and who is the proven expert on that type of case and has a winning track record, but he and his firm have a poor showing on diversity, you would not hire that attorney?”
Don answered, “I’ve never been faced with that situation,” which drew appreciative laughter from the audience, “but do you mean to tell me that in this wide world, he would be the only lawyer who can handle that case? I doubt it. We would certainly consider his qualifications and track record, but we would still place a high premium on diversity.”
Sandra continued to press and was joined by Jeffrey Harleston, Executive Vice President and GC at Universal Music Group, who shared Sandra’s viewpoint and did not think that diversity would take precedence over other factors, especially if the case was not just “bet-the-company” but was “bet-the-industry.” In such a case, diversity or not, the company would go with the best lawyer for the job.
Don, seeming somewhat piqued but contained, replied: “There seems to be a suggestion that picking the diverse candidate somehow implies getting inferior services. I don’t buy that.” The audience applauded loudly for that statement.
The back-and-forth continued and Don seemed to relent slightly in his position but did not retreat from his stance that the hypothetical was unrealistic. Col. Maritza Ryan, Head of the Department of Law at the United States Military Academy, the fourth panelist, noted for the record (yes, transcription was being taken) that she was “the peaceful one.” The audience laughed appreciatively in response.
The debate was certainly lively and enhanced what was already an engaging discussion. At the end, Don and Sandra, who are long-time friends, gave hearty hugs to each other, making clear that there were no hard feelings.
I didn’t have the benefit of the transcript in recounting the exchanges described above but of all the Smooth Moves programs I have had the pleasure to enjoy these last few years, this is the one for which I would request a copy of the transcript. If you know how we can get a hold of one, please let me know.
What do you think? If your company was faced with a bet-the-company or bet-the-industry case, does diversity go out the window in deciding which outside counsel to hire?