By Carter A. Beck, Vice President, Counsel, Legal & Commercial
When my boss, the General Counsel of WellPoint, Inc., came to me in late 2008 with the idea of initiating a legal diversity team, I have to say that I was somewhat confounded about how we would accomplish this and who would want to participate on the team. To my great surprise (and relief ), there was tremendous interest in setting up a team, and we were able to easily populate the team with approximately a dozen associates.
WellPoint has had, for many years, a strong focus on diversity, and developing our diversity marks in all facets of our business, whether it is in the associate workforce, or in the supplier or customer sides. That’s what I think provided a strong and influential basis for me to work with the team’s co-leads to create a new legal diversity team, known as the Diversity Forum. The team is populated with a diverse cross-section of legal associates, including by race, age, gender, ethnic background, and job function.
We have rounded out our first year of the Forum, having accomplished much in 2009. We attended and presented at various conferences where diversity was a focus. We worked with the StreetLaw program in several cities in collaboration with law firms that represent WellPoint. We also initiated a number of training and learning opportunities for the WellPoint legal staff.
Our focus for 2010 is even more ambitious. We have been able to establish a budget allowing us to increase our efforts and make greater strides to improve diversity within the WellPoint legal department and develop stronger connection points outside of the company.
One of our efforts is focused on developing talent pipelines among diverse organizations, including secondary schools, colleges and universities. One of the challenges that confront us, as well as many other corporations and law firms, is the shrinking body of diverse law students. Law schools have reported decreases in African-American applicants over the past few years, and only slight increases of other ethnic- or race-based individuals. This means that the law school graduate pool is quite small and there is, understandably, great interest and competition from many entities to hire these law school graduates.
It is our hope that, with some of our pre-collegebased and law school-based programs, we can learn more about current and future law school students to better ascertain what types of employment they will be seeking once they graduate. Additionally, getting the WellPoint name “out there” and making ourselves known to students is a great way of creating connection points and helping to develop those diverse talent pipelines that we desire.
I would strongly encourage other corporations and law firms to consider creating a legal diversity team. It is a fulfilling endeavor and you might just be surprised by the amount of interest and enthusiasm there is among your associates. I know I was.
And I’m happy to report that, with our General Counsel’s strong support, my job as executive sponsor for our Diversity Forum is nothing short of invigorating, challenging and delightful.