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Law-Firm Clients Demand More Black Attorneys

Law firms have spent years promising to hire and promote more Black lawyers. Their corporate clients are now pressuring them to show results.
Companies including Microsoft Corp. , U.S. Bancorp , Uber Technologies Inc. and Intel Corp. are asking the law firms they hire to detail how many diverse lawyers they employ and whether those lawyers are assigned meaningful work. Firms that don’t have good answers might lose out on bonuses or not get hired.
“What gets done is what gets rewarded,” said Shannon Klinger, chief legal officer of pharmaceutical company Novartis AG , which withholds 15% of legal fees if diversity benchmarks aren’t met.
Client demands swelled this year, driven by the national debate about race and equity. “Lightning struck,” said Joel Stern, who leads an association of minority- and women-owned law firms. “People are calling up saying, ‘Show me the Black lawyers…show me the Black law firms.’ ”
At Microsoft, law firms in the company’s preferred network can earn back as much as 3% of their fees as a bonus if they hit diversity targets. Starting in January, Intel will only hire U.S. law firms whose U.S. equity partnerships are comprised of at least 21% women and 10% underrepresented minorities. Other companies ask firms for an accounting of diversity figures without setting specific targets.
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