Frustrated by the lack of diversity in the legal profession, MetLife’s General Counsel Ricardo Anzaldua is planning to use his $100 million annual legal budget to nudge law firms in the right direction.

On April 20, Anzaldua will host lawyers from all over — including up to 75 outside law firms — at MetLife’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters for a summit where he plans to deliver an ultimatum: create a formal plan to retain and promote your diverse talent by next year, or don’t plan to work with MetLife much longer.

“It’s not a game,” said Anzaldua, whose legal affairs department staffs 900 lawyers and professionals. “It’s an attempt to advance this imperative of the profession in a transparent and generous way.”

The adversarial nature of that challenge notwithstanding, he said his goal is not to force but rather to help law firms improve their diversity, in part by sharing how MetLife’s own legal department has gone about overcoming the same challenge.

 

 

Not a New Issue

Anzaldua said women and minority attorneys enter Big Law in significant numbers, but leave before they become senior leaders in their organizations.

The issue is not new, but has gained increased attention over the past several years as general counsel have launched diversity initiatives and updated existing ones. In February, for instance, HP announced that it would withhold as much as 10 percent of fees if their outside law firms don’t hit diversity staffing targets. And on Saturday, Facebook announced that it would require outside law firms to staff women and ethnic minorities on at least a third of its legal matters. Law firms, in turn, have made a point to include diversity in their marketing materials and establish better programs internally to achieve it.

“The problem is not recruiting diverse talent — there really is quite a good amount of diverse talent that comes into the system,” Anzaldua said. “It’s just not retained and promoted.”

At the April event, which will be closed to the press, Anzaldua said he plans to give law firms until June 2018 to present MetLife with a formal talent development plan that shows how they will promote and retain diverse lawyers. If the plan is not acceptable the outside law firm will have until December 2018 to revise its plan, although there will be no third try after that.

“If we don’t have an agreement on an accountability plan, I would take the law firm off the approved law firm list,” said Anzaldua.

He stressed that he wants his approach to be collaborative rather than confrontational.

“I’m not telling people they have to hit benchmarks,” he said. “What I’m telling people is they have to have a plan of holding themselves accountable.”

 

[Pictured below, Anzaldua speaks about diversity and inclusion at the 2015 Big Law Business D&I Summit.]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpBM0wNLJnM

 

MetLife’s ‘Talent Stewardship’ Program

The request comes after MetLife created its own internal diversity plan last summer, which Anzaldua said he will share with law firms.

The plan identified about 35 junior lawyers and compliance professionals with "high potential” to be leaders, Anzaldua said.

These lawyers are matched up with sponsors, who work with the junior lawyers on their career goals and are evaluated in their performance reviews on how well they have helped their proteges.

He said the MetLife legal affairs department has ten senior vice presidents and roughly 60 vice presidents, all of whom are required to be a sponsor in this initiative and whose compensation is tied to their performance in the sponsorship program.

“I expect my senior team to be sponsoring three [lawyers each] and the next layer of management below them to have one or two each,” said Anzaldua.

A total of roughly 70 junior lawyers and professionals are expected to be in the sponsorship program later this year.

 

Skepticism from Outside Firms

Anzaldua said that he has already discussed this initiative with partners at roughly 15 law firms in one-on-one meetings. No one has disagreed with the premise, but some firms expressed skepticism in his ability to accomplish change, he said.

A mash-up of large law firms, boutiques, and labor and employment focused firms have represented MetLife in recent years, according to Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics . Such firms include Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, Sedgwick, Olgetree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, Steptoe & Johnson and Bradley Arant Boult Cummings.

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher represented MetLife in its successful legal fight against its label as “too big to fail” — a designation by the federal government that signals a company is so big that, if it were to collapse, it could be disastrous to the economy and must be held to greater regulatory scrutiny. And, in 2016, Willkie, Farr & Gallagher represented MetLife in its sale of its U.S. retail advisor business to another insurer, affecting 200 employees .

 

[caption id="attachment_46766" align="aligncenter” width="646"][Image “Litanalytics” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Litanalytics.png)]MetLife’s outside law firms in federal courts over the past year, according to Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics.[/caption]

 

Anzaldua said he is hopeful that outside firms will heed his call.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to partners inside law firms who have thanked me for this initiative,” said Anzaldua, “because they are advocates in the institution, and the response they get from some of the old guard is, ‘The clients really don’t care about it.’”

But he added that he and other big corporate legal departments, “do care about this and we mean it, and we are going to put some teeth behind what we are doing.”

UPDATED: This story has been corrected to note that MetLife’s diversity initiative includes non-lawyer professionals in the legal affairs department.

 

[Image “blb newsletter” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/blb-newsletter.jpg)]