Wal-Mart Demands Diversity in Law Firms

Meredith Hobbs, Law.com, July 6

Law firms that pack their lower ranks with minorities and women while leaving white men in charge are about to find Wal-Mart a tough customer.

The nation’s biggest retailer wants to see diversity at the top. The company’s general counsel has told its top 100 law firms that at least one person of color and one woman must be among the top five relationship attorneys that handle its business.

Wal-Mart GC Thomas Mars made the announcement last week at an Atlanta conference on legal diversity. Top lawyers at Visa International, Del Monte, Pitney Bowes and Cox Communications also said they have begun requiring outside counsel to demonstrate that there are substantive numbers of women and minority lawyers in the upper levels of their firms.

Mars, whose department spends about $200 million a year on outside legal services, said he realized he had to do something when he saw that 82 of the top 100 relationship partners handling the company’s business are white men.

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Wal-Mart’s move, sent in a letter to outside counsel last month, upped the ante.

Once the retailing giant gets lists of attorneys from its outside firms, due in mid-July, it will start weeding accordingly, Mars said. “We’ll be making more decisions to retain and terminate firms [at that point],” he said.

“We are terminating a firm right now strictly because of their inability to grasp our diversity expectations,” he added.

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