Dallas-native Walter Sutton, associate general counsel for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., moderated a panel discussion on corporations and diverse outside counsel at the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting on June 20. Sutton, who received the 2013 Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, stressed the importance of diversity in the workplace. According to Sutton, there are 150 lawyers working in the legal department in Bentonville, Ark., and 46 percent of them are women and 30 percent are attorneys of color. He said Wal-Mart wanted to make sure its own workforce was diverse before making it a priority when hiring outside counsel. Wal-Mart spends $200 million a year on outside counsel.
The participating panelists—Toni D. Nguyen, assistant general counsel at Dallas-based Luminex Corporation, Michelle A. Peak, senior labor attorney at American Airlines, and Navin Rao, vice president and assistant general counsel at Dallas-based Michaels Stores, Inc.—agreed, emphasizing the need for outside counsel to be diverse in makeup as well as in thought. “I’m not shy about saying your numbers are low, and I’m going to take my business elsewhere,” said Rao, describing a scenario when an outside firm might not have many minorities. One way to ensure outside counsel makes a concerted effort to be more diverse is for attorneys to attend diversity events and interact with the lawyers in these groups. According to the panelists, attorneys who promote diversity will have a better understanding of what corporations are looking for when hiring outside counsel.