Microsoft offers financial bonus to firms that meet its diversity targets

Christias: Even just gathering data helps

Law firms instructed by Microsoft will be eligible for a bonus of up to 3% of their annual fees next year if they meet the diversity targets set by the technology behemoth.

The company also announced CMS as its top-performing panel firm for 2021, meeting seven of the eight diversity targets, with CMS and Reed Smith sharing the ‘most innovative firm’ prize for their approach to Microsoft’s law firm diversity programme.

Patricia Wick Christias, assistant general counsel and head of legal at Microsoft UK, said that, after a pilot year in 2020, it invited all firms that did “substantial” work for the company to join the programme this year, which aimed “to support our law firm partners to make progress in diversifying their workforce and recognise them for so doing”.

She reported that the number of hours that diverse employees from CMS spent on Microsoft matters grew 12%, reaching 63%. The overall diversity of CMS’s management committee grew to meet the target of 50%.

The number of female and minority partners grew by 2.4% and 1.4% respectively, which Microsoft described as “promising progress”, with the diversity of the partnership increasing by three percentage points to 42%.

Clive Gringras, Microsoft’s client relationship partner and head of technology, media and telecommunications at CMS, said Microsoft’s “data-driven approach” to the programme “challenges us to be more deliberate in choosing the most diverse team possible”.

The participating practices themselves voted for the most innovative law firm. Reed Smith was singled out for its racial equity action plan, which has set a series of goals around recruitment, retention, leadership and engagement with clients to improve the representation of Black lawyers in the firm.

It is also undertaking pro bono projects designed to positively impact the Black community.

CMS, meanwhile, has set a target of attracting 35% of applications from ethnically diverse applicants by 2023, with the aim of 35% of offers being to these candidates too; the current offer rate is just below 30%.

CMS is also launching a two-year pilot programme in 2022 for ethnically diverse senior associates, including an opportunity to access coaching and mentoring, and to work with a ‘sponsor partner’.

Ms Christias said that though its data showed an upward trend in growth of women partners, committee composition and partner composition, “it reveals minimal or even negative progress for minority partners, Black/Black British partners, Asian/Asian British partners, Mixed Multiple partners, as well as both partner and attorney hours”.

The financial bonus was one of the measures Microsoft was introduced “to bring even sharper focus to the opportunity ahead to create a more diverse and inclusive legal profession in the UK”.

It is also adding a social mobility target and increasing the diversity targets at partner and committee level.

“In launching the [programme] in the UK, it has been clear to us that even merely gathering diversity data helps our firms to look again at their firm’s talent and identify areas where they can improve their diversity,” Ms Christias said.

The other firms who took part in the programme this year were Mishcon de Reya, Eversheds Sutherland, Wiggin, Covington, Osborne Clarke and intellectual property specialists Page White & Farrer.

The programme began in 2008 in the US.

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