Oracle’s Top Lawyer on the ‘Cascading Effect’ of Diversity

As the general counsel of Oracle, Dorian Daley believes she has an important role to play in increasing gender equality and diversity within the ranks of her outside counsel. But Daley, who oversees a 457-member legal department at the computing giant, also believes she can do the same for women in tech. 

There can be this helpful, almost symbiotic relationship between in-house departments and law firms, and I think the legal industry and the tech industry can have the same dynamic,” she told Big Law Business during a recent interview.

Earlier this month, Daley became the first non-founding director on the board of ChIPs, a national non-profit dedicated to advancing women at the confluence of technology, law and policy. The group began as an informal networking group in 2005 and has since grown to an organization with over 2,000 members and seven chapters in the U.S. and abroad. ChIPs stands for chiefs of intellectual property, a role all seven women founders held at major technology companies in Silicon Valley at the time the group was formed.

As GC of Oracle, Daley said she pushes her outside counsel not only to field diverse legal teams but also to promote certain women and other attorneys she believes have done great work. She has, on several occasions, ended a relationship with a law firm when it didn’t meet her expectations, she said.

“We’re clear about our expectations, and if the expectations aren’t met, we have switched firms mid-stream and we have, in a particular matter, if we were close to the end, finished out that matter and then not re-engaged with a firm,” she said.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Big Law Business: You recently joined the board of ChIPs as its first outside director. There are many organizations out there dedicated to women in tech and the law. Why did you choose this one?

Dorian Daley: I’ve been involved with ChIPs since its inception. I know a number of the women that began ChIPs, and we’ve been in communication on a variety of issues for quite some time. The focus of ChIPs is specific: they’re focused on issues at the intersections of law, technology and policy, and that’s where I live.

It’s very tailored to the kinds of things I’m dealing with on a day to day basis. The way [the organization] can frame issues and engage a discussion on them is particularly intelligent. It’s not merely about people coming into an event and telling war stories; there’s a discussion and dialogue and real engagement on the issues. It really is that combination of the substantive focus as well as the focus on diversity and inclusion and training leadership among women of diverse backgrounds that I find to be so appealing.

Dorian Daley (courtesy photo)
Dorian Daley (courtesy photo)

BLB: Do you have any examples of value you’ve gained as a GC through a ChIPs event?

Daley: I was at the [ChIPs annual] summit, either last year or the year before, and there was a woman, [Kieran Snyder,] the CEO of a company called Textio. It’s a really interesting tool they’ve built that helps law departments, or anybody looking for candidates to fill a position, in a way that invites people from diverse backgrounds. Some of this goes to the issues of unconscious bias. They have this tool that will score you and help you self-revise to create [a job posting] that is more inviting to people of diverse backgrounds. We’ve done well [at Oracle], but I think we can do better with people from diverse backgrounds. I know the candidates are there, so we’re using this tool. I saw [this woman] at a panel at ChIPs, I called her, she came down to San Francisco. Now we’re going to start measuring our candidate pool.

 

BLB: Women have made greater strides in-house than they have in law firms, but there’s still room for improvement all around. How do you think corporate environments are different from and similar to law firms?

Daley: There’s very obviously an overlap, but what you find in in-house law departments is increasingly, we’re seeing women in leadership positions. They are general counsel. When you have that position at the top, it can have a cascading effect.

In law firms, unless you’ve got a firm that has been created by women (and there are women partners leaving to do that), in many large firms the partnership is dominated by men. It’s getting better, and some firms are doing better, but it’s dominated by men. My perception in my many discussions with law firm partners is that there really is a genuine desire and push by men in the firms to be engaged in this discussion. I think we’ll see some impact there. But I think some of that is also driven by women general counsel leading these large organizations and having conversations with our partners outside, saying we have expectations in terms of what they’ll do. I think there’s a very connected relationship there.

For example, we will ask, and many other in-house departments will ask, to have women on our teams, or we will specifically say we want these people to be on our team for this matter. Or there’s a female senior associate and I want her to take the lead on a particular case. At Oracle, we’re not shy about letting law firms know about people we think should be promoted to partnership.

 

[Below is a snapshot of a handful of top outside law firms for Oracle over the past year, via Bloomberg Law. The chart shows top firms that have appeared frequently for Oracle in federal courts.] 

Oracle law firms

 

BLB: What are you doing at Oracle?

Daley: We ask in our retention letter that [law firms] consider creating a team that has people from diverse backgrounds. What’s far more meaningful is the conversation we have with them when we’re talking about the engagement. We are not shy about expressing strong opinions, and we will say, ‘No, I want not just a woman, but this woman to lead a team.’ We do very clearly express when we believe that there is a woman, or a man, who we think should be elevated to leadership, based on the experience we have had with that person. We’re very clear with them that we want to see a diverse team. Typically we’re dealing with diverse teams outside [our organization], or we’re dealing with a diverse jury, and it better reflects the communities we live and work in.

 

BLB: Have you ever stopped working with a firm because it didn’t meet your standards?

Daley: Sure. What I can tell you is that we’re clear about our expectations, and if the expectations aren’t met, we have switched firms mid-stream and we have, in a particular matter, if we were close to the end, finished out that matter and then not re-engaged with a firm. It’s been a handful of times.

For the most part, the firms that we work with are trying very hard to be responsive to us and be responsive to the issue in general. We’re considered to be an important client. Generally we’ve been successful.

If we begin a new relationship, we usually begin a little cautiously, and then build on that as we build out the relationship and we see there is a good fit between our organization and the firm.

 

BLB: A lot of diversity and inclusion initiatives are specific to industries, but ChIPs cuts across tech and law and policy. Do you think this kind of an organization has a different impact?

Daley: From my perspective, if we’re talking about the legal industry, I think we’re generally doing better with women in leadership than we are in tech. Even in tech, you can’t ignore the fact that you’ve got Safra Catz as CEO at Oracle, Meg Whitman as CEO at HP, and Sheryl Sandberg as COO at Facebook. But tech has gotten dinged quite a bit for being male-dominated in leadership and on the design and engineering side. Women have done a good job in the legal industry at coming up and taking leadership positions.

From the legal side, what ChIPs is helpful for is to help inform and advance women not in law, but in technology, who are interested in legal issues. It can advance leadership skills and opportunities for them.

There can be this helpful, almost symbiotic relationship between in-house departments and law firms, and I think the legal industry and the tech industry can have the same dynamic. There is a natural connection between law and technology and we can use that to make sure we see the same general progression in technology that we’ve seen in the law. We can help each other do better.

 

Write to the reporter at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

Write to the editor at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.