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Corporate Talent & Inclusion

U.S. Bank Legal Operations: Key to Achieving Success Is an Expansive Commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 6 minute read

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 6 minute read

U.S. Bank Legal Ops team encourages its preferred law firms to maintain their commitment to diversity and inclusion, no matter if the economy is up or down

Caren Ulrich Stacy, CEO of Diversity Lab, earlier this month urged law firm leaders to “double down on diversity” as part of her “recession advice.” To that end, U.S. Bank Legal Ops team plays a key role in encouraging and supporting its preferred firms to maintain their commitment to diversity and inclusion, no matter whether the economy is up or down.

U.S. Bank’s legal ops team leadership — Amy Wagner, Strategic Initiatives Director; Mary Baker, Director of Legal Operations; and Matt Wahlquist, Head of Outside Counsel Management, Pricing & Analytics — are part of a 10-person legal operations team. As such the three are key leaders within the 250-person legal division at U.S. Bank, under the leadership of General Counsel Jim Chosy, who has been a passionate advocate for driving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

The legal ops team partners together across the bank’s law division to execute DEI programs, including becoming one of 21 pioneering legal organizations to first join Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule: Legal Department Edition and a founding law department in the Move the Needle fund. Thomson Reuters Institute sat down with the three to discuss how they adapt their legal operations processes and systems to automate DEI activities while expanding their commitment at the same time.

Mansfield Rule Plays a Key Role

U.S. Bank’s legal team delivers on a range of DEI activities with the guidance of a 36-member DEI council. Internal efforts are focused on implementing the group’s recruiting and hiring guidelines, which include interview panels and behavior-based interviewing techniques designed to interrupt bias. The group also promotes the goals and reporting requirements of the Mansfield Rule in-house pilot by conducting internal education on these guidelines and working with the individuals who have the responsibility of hiring employees and outside counsel. This pilot, officially called Mansfield Rule: Legal Department Edition (MRLD), measures whether at least 50% of the candidate pool for top leadership roles, legal department hiring, promotions, and outside counsel representation consists of women, lawyers of color, LGBTQ+ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities.

At the same time, U.S. Bank is also committed to the advancement and promotion of its in-house diverse talent with bank-wide leadership opportunities and external partnerships and fellowships. It is also exploring ideas that came out of a recent DEI design workshop, such as a stretch assignment program.

Externally, the bank is partnering with its preferred law firms on DEI efforts. As part of their preferred counsel program, U.S. Bank asks preferred law firms to include at least one diverse team leader on the U.S. Bank client services team and to participate in Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule for law firms, which asks firms to certify that they put forward at least 305 women, lawyers of color, LGBTQ+ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, formal client pitch opportunities, and senior lateral positions.

U.S. Bank also partners with its preferred firms on early career and high-potential talent, recognizing up-and-coming leaders with a diverse identity at the bank’s preferred firms and giving these high-potential lawyers the opportunity to showcase their expertise through exposure to senior leaders in the law division and in the delivery of CLEs. For early career talent, U.S. Bank collaborates with its preferred law firms on a Pathways Summer Associate program.

U.S. Bank Legal Ops team plays a key role in encouraging and supporting its preferred firms to maintain their commitment to diversity and inclusion, no matter whether the economy is up or down.

To recognize this commitment to DEI efforts from its preferred law firms, the bank created the U.S. Bank Law Division “Invested in Diversity” annual award. Earlier this year, U.S. Bank presented this award to Morgan Lewis Bockius LLP, in part because the firm “reported high levels of gender and racial and ethnic diversity among all their attorneys, including at the partner and equity partner level, and they have a high proportion of diverse partners in their leadership positions,” Wagner states.

Aligning Systems & Process to Enable Commitment to DEI

To comply with the multi-faceted MRLD reporting outcomes, U.S. Bank adapted its matter intake form and its matter e-billing system, says Wahlquist. “We had to work with our technology services team to identify the specific fields in our new matter intake form and then, we mirrored these changes in Legal Tracker, manipulating the user-defined fields in the system,” he explains.

Probably the most challenging element of the tool adjustment was tracking the diversity of outside counsel candidates that the bank was considering hiring. Driven by MRLD, U.S. Bank works with its outside counsel to ensure that law firms meet a 50% target to promote diverse lawyers as first- or second-chair on the bank’s new legal matters.

Once the systems were in place, Wagner and Baker stepped in with communications and training to ensure that law division team members fully understood the bank’s commitment to MRLD, their role in supporting that commitment, and the associated reporting requirements.

Ensuring Success on DEI Initiatives

Given years of experience working on DEI across functional areas within the bank’s law division, Baker and Wagner expanded their view of what it takes to make progress in DEI.

Wagner points out that patience is key — this work takes time and continuous commitment — and also, experimenting with new approaches to DEI is important. This experimenting can include such initiatives as encouraging collective learning through the collaboration of legal departments, law firms, and community leaders to test new, innovative DEI approaches through Diversity Lab’s Move the Needle fund, which offers proven organizational mechanisms tested and backed by data. Wagner also outlined how programs beginning in high school with underrepresented students that encourage these students to envision themselves as attorneys are another critical step.

Finally, Baker notes that inclusion is equally as important as diversity, because “the work [of inclusion] is never done” and to institutionalize inclusion, “it’s good to constantly challenge yourself, learn more about what’s going on outside” of your in-house department.

The group’s goals include “keep[ing] the door open, listen[ing] to people, and mak[ing] sure that we’re constantly changing and evolving in ways that make everyone feel that they’re a part of our U.S. Bank legal team,” Baker adds.

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