As paying clients, corporate legal departments have the clout to demand more diversity from their law firms, and many of them are playing a proactive role in changing the profile of the industry.

Tom Sager, the former GC of DuPont Co. who is now a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP, has said that an old boys' network still controls the assignment of work in firms. GCs can begin to change this by requesting that diverse attorneys are doing work for them and getting the credit for it.

Sager says most firms operate with a focus on the short term — annual billings and revenues. So to ensure that people of color increasingly take leadership roles in firms, he suggests that GCs ask their firms to develop succession plans that will lead to diverse attorneys eventually taking on the account representative or engagement partner roles with the firms' major clients.

"You can't flip that switch immediately," Sager says, "but you ought to be preparing these young people to assume those leadership roles where they'll be at the intersection of the corporation they're serving and the law firm. Corporations can insist they develop a bench ... and that will result in more progress in this space once they're in a position to ensure that the team servicing the client is a very diverse, energized, talented team of professionals."

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