We've written before about how Susan Blount, the general counsel of the insurance giant Prudential Financial, took a hard line this year on the hourly rates it would pay its outside law firms. Now Blount and Prudential are part of another initiative that will change the way the company does business with firms. Prudential and about a dozen other companies, including DuPont and Microsoft, pledged Thursday to spend $30 million in 2010 on minority- and women-owned law firms.
In-house lawyers at DuPont and Prudential hatched the idea and recruited in-house lawyers at other companies to build a larger coalition, Blount tells us. Like many large companies with big legal budgets, Prudential has for several years included diversity among the criteria by which it divides work among its huge outside law firms. With this commitment, Prudential and its allies will direct more money toward smaller minority- and women-owned shops, she says. "There are issues in our profession in terms of bringing in people from diverse backgrounds and, frankly, having women and people from diverse backgrounds experience success in the long haul," she says.
Prudential will also continue to focus on diversity in choosing larger corporate firms. Prudential would shift work away from any firm that "doesn't seem to care" about diversity, Blount says, though the company will give firms a chance to explain what might cause a sudden drop in minority head count. Jenner & Block, for instance, lost several minority and female lawyers to the Obama administration, something Prudential did not hold against Jenner in its evaluation of the firm, Blount says.
The other companies involved in the $30 million Inclusion Initiative announced Thursday include American Airlines, Accenture, Comcast and General Mills.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.