Universities as Legal Clients: What Can They Do?

Universities as Legal Clients: What Can They Do?


In Building a Better Legal Profession's recent post,  "Universities Can Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is,"  we talked about the fact that universities, big buyers of legal services, have lots of institutional reasons to think about diversity when they pick law firms as outside counsel. Now, what specifically can they do, and how does that fit in with their need to make sound fiscal decisions, especially in tough economic times?

So what can universities do?

They can think about the problem. As part of their work allocation process they can demand more information on the staffing of their matters and on the general demographics of the firms to which they are considering sending work; law firms are notoriously secretive-case in point, they forced NALP (the Association for Legal Career Professionals, formerly known as the National Association for law Placement) to back down on NALP's decision to request equity/non-equity partnership information from firms as a part of its annual survey because they didn't want to give up the information (for more information see BBLP's previous blog posts (click here) ( and here). Schools that are allowed to take diversity into account (some schools, like the University of California system, are legally not allowed to do so) can figure out a mechanism for doing so.

What's more, universities will be late to the party in deciding to consider diversity. Private businesses have already been doing so. For example, on March 4, 2010, 11 major American corporations said that they would collectively set aside at least $30 million to hire minority- and woman-owned law firms as outside counsel (for this story, see the GC Mid-Atlantic article here. The 11 companies include DuPont, American Airlines Inc., Comcast Corp., Exelon Corp., General Mills Inc., GlaxoSmithKline plc, Microsoft Corp. The companies recognize the importance of diversity in the legal profession, but they also acknowledge that the decision makes business sense. Thomas Sager, a senior vice president and general counsel of DuPont, explained to the GC Mid-Atlantic "that hiring minority- and women-owned firms, which tend to be smaller than Big Law competitors, was also a way to cut costs at a time when many legal departments looking to trim budgets. 'This makes moral sense, and it makes business sense. Many of these firms are noted for their creativity, resourcefulness and cost-effectiveness.'" 


Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School.   BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.


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