Jim Chosy | Executive Vice President and General Counsel | U.S. Bancorp

In-house legal departments have big role to play in positively influencing diversity with outside counsel.

U.S. Bank is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the horrific killing of George Floyd occurred in June.  Immediately thereafter, conversation began within the bank and the law division about how we were feeling and what we needed to do. The tone was set at the top by our CEO, who highlighted the need for us to lead differently and better to address inequality.  Subsequently, the Bank announced multiple investments (over $100m) and initiatives to bridge gaps and address inequities.  Within the law division, we’ve launched a new program reflecting our commitment to racial justice and to standing against racism and working together with purpose to learn, grow, build community, and foster change within the legal team, the broader legal profession, and our communities. I feel a special responsibility in this as a corporate leader, a lawyer representing the legal system, and as a citizen of Minneapolis.

In-house legal departments have big role to play in positively influencing diversity with outside counsel.  Given our purchasing power, we’re able to drive change and I feel an obligation to do this with our law firms, which we consider an extension of our own in-house function. We do this in several ways, including participating in external initiatives, and through our internal Spotlight on Talent program.  We also request and measure diversity data from our law firms to help drive hiring decisions, and last year presented our first U.S. Bank “Invested in Diversity” award to one law firm, in recognition of its efforts and success with diversity.

Moving the needle on diversity and inclusion

One of the initiatives we have been closely involved with is Move the Needle (MTN), [a collaborative effort designed and funded with $4m to test innovative initiatives to create a more diverse and inclusive legal profession, facilitated by Diversity Lab]. I am proud to serve as a founding MTN general counsel and on the MTN Fund’s board of advisors.  The MTN concept is to test innovative diversity initiatives to create transformational change that has been lacking in the profession. Diversity Lab brought together five leading law firms, over 25 general counsel, and top community leaders to work together to develop new approaches to be tested over five years and hopefully serve as models for lasting change.

Importantly, the law firms have invested $1m each in the initiative, and have set aggressive, measurable and public goals in areas like recruitment, retention, work assignment, access to clients, and advancement to firm leadership.  Corporate departments support these firms along the way, backed by our significant collective legal spend. It’s no small thing for big law firms to commit (expose, really) themselves in this way, financially and with public accountability, and I commend them for their courage and bold thinking.  I’m excited about the prospects for MTN and hoping we can, actually, “move the needle” more so than in the past.

While we have a robust Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I program) at U.S. Bank, we’re not where we want to be yet and need to keep working hard at it.  The program has several elements and we continually adjust it, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t.  In terms of recent priorities, several originated with Diversity Lab.  For example, last year U.S. Bank was proud to be among the first companies to join the Mansfield Rule pilot for in-house legal departments which requires consideration of underrepresented groups for hiring and leadership roles and also outside counsel representation.  We just certified complete for the first year and have started the 2.0 version of the commitment.  We’ve also requested that members of our preferred outside counsel program, representing 40 or so of our deepest law firm relationships, agree to participate in the law firm version of Mansfield.  They also must have at least one diverse client team leader on our U.S. Bank account.  And I’m gratified to say that several firms adopted Mansfield in response to our specific request.

Talent spotting

I believe strongly in formal talent planning and mentorship or sponsorship as part of furthering diversity, and they’ve worked well for us.  At U.S. Bank, the law division participates in disciplined talent planning processes and also mentorship and sponsorship programs for professional growth and development over time.  The programs, some focused specifically on diverse employees, are not only good learning opportunities but they also drive retention and engagement.

We’re also involved with several talent pipeline efforts, such as law school internship, externship and fellowship programs and our own Pathways Summer Associate Program, a partnership with several preferred law firms to host diverse summer associates.  And we partner with outside counsel on the development of diverse, early-career lawyers.  For example, through our “Spotlight on Talent” program we invite preferred law firms to apply for the opportunity to showcase their diverse talent by conducting an in-person educational session for our entire department followed by meetings with our senior leadership and practice groups.  Afterwards, we work to create lasting relationships with the Spotlight “alumni”  with the goals of career advancement and engaging Spotlight associates on Bank matters.

Mentoring will certainly remain important as we re-adjust to a post-COVID world.  We’ll need to lean on each other and learn and grow anew as we navigate the future.  Some are concerned that economic difficulties caused by the pandemic will disproportionately impact women and people of colour within the legal profession.  However, I believe that most law firms and corporate departments fully appreciate the criticality of diverse and inclusive workplaces and have been finding creative ways to keep mentorship and other diversity efforts active during the pandemic and in a largely virtual environment.  We recognize that the new challenges brought on by this environment demand innovation and creativity, which diversity can help unlock.  But we do need to remain vigilant and make sure we don’t lose any of the progress we’ve made with diversity over time.