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In a first-of-its-kind ACC Value Challenge initiative, an in-house legal department redefined the value it receives from outside counsel in terms of diversity. Although the results may not be measured in dollars and cents, the initiative has reaped countless gains through varied perspectives, enhanced collaboration, richness of thought, fairness and humanity.

Diversity and inclusion have long been acknowledged as strategic assets that make companies more innovative, more insightful about their customers, and better able to attract and retain talent. Several years ago, Laura Schumacher, Chief Legal Officer at pharmaceutical company AbbVie, an ACC Value Champion in 2019, resolved that the company would use its influence to enhance the diversity of outside counsel and the legal industry.  

VC21 AbbVie Quote Box

“I believe that every individual is responsible for using the authority of their position to advocate for others. In-house counsel are in a unique position to ensure that our  partner firms are bringing the diverse backgrounds and perspectives needed to meet our toughest challenges, and to help future generations of underrepresented lawyers access meaningful opportunities early in their education or careers,” she wrote in a Law360 blog post.

Jennifer Lagunas, Vice President, Corporate Legal, Governance, and Operations, took on the challenge of creating the AbbVie Outside Counsel Diversity Initiative so it would spur meaningful change, not just optics. She provides some context: “Diversity and inclusion are foundational principles at AbbVie—they’re who we are, and we live those values. Not only do diverse perspectives lead to less groupthink and better, more creative ideas, but it’s the right thing to do.”

A thoughtful beginning was critical to a successful outcome, so Lagunas and other legal leaders devoted significant upfront time to defining goals and selecting metrics. The goals needed to be concrete, aspirational, achievable, and measurable, with real consequences for firms that did not meet the objectives. Lagunas teamed with Lynette Lupia, Director, Outside Counsel Strategy & External Initiatives, to devise this program framework:

  • Focused on firms that accounted for approximately 80 percent of AbbVie’s legal spend
  • Individual firm targets for partner hours building upon initial diversity metrics
  • Five years to achieve targets
  • Regular review of progress  

Redirection of AbbVie business over time to firms that share AbbVie’s commitment and can meet their targets.

AbbVie set partner hour targets for individual firms to encourage meaningful leadership on its matters by diverse attorneys. By focusing two of the program metrics on partners, AbbVie attacked the legal industry’s “partnership problem” head-on: lack of diversity among partners despite increasing diversity among associates. “We felt that focusing on partner hours would spur firms to grow a pipeline of diverse talent to ensure an adequate pool of candidates for partnership,” Lagunas says.  

In addition to asking for improvement in partner hours by key firms, the leadership team also set aggregate goals to achieve on AbbVie matters across their top-spend firms, to be accomplished within five years through changes in the mix of firms and teams engaged:

  • Equal female and male partner hours
  • Double representation by minority partners
  • Increase the overall work done by underrepresented attorneys to 50 percent.

AbbVie launched the program in 2018 by meeting individually with key partners at each of the 25 firms in the initial cohort, to explain the goals, rationale, and consequences of the program. “We wanted the firms to feel like they owned this program and had a stake in it,” says Lagunas. By the end of 2019, three firms had met both of their targets and three had met at least one. By the end of 2019, female partner hours were up 18 percent, minority partner hours were up 46 percent, and underrepresented lawyer hours were up 12 percent.  By the end of 2020, AbbVie met the aggregate goals, though holding those results after a large acquisition and as matters change year over year requires ongoing effort.

AbbVie walks the talk, as well: Women make up more than two-thirds of the global legal department, and 29 percent are from underrepresented groups. The company continues to work on finding and developing high-potential diverse attorneys and exploring new options for its important matters. One way is by partnering with NAMWOLF, the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms, to create a practice area committee focused on the pharmaceutical industry. “The benefit to us is that these lawyers look at the work with new eyes,” says Lupia. “Working with small firms is a value proposition of its own.”

The company also has created a first-year law school internship program in intellectual property for diverse students. IP is an area of law that trails other practice areas in diversity. All of the program’s first six interns have received offers for summer positions or full-time post-graduation roles from top firms. There will be seven interns in the summer of 2021 in a variety of practice areas.

Diversity and inclusion is not just the purview of legal department leadership, says Lagunas. “Anyone who is hiring is empowered to ask who is going to be on the team, who is going to be doing the work, who the associates are to make sure there is a diverse team and who is getting credit. We’ve had people apply that not only to law firms but to our registered agents, our eDiscovery vendors, and the like.”


VC21 AbbVie Team Photo
L to R: Joy Monahan, Sanjay Narayan, Perry Siatis, Sam Ranganathan, Laura Schumacher, Pearson Bownas, Johanna Corbin, Jennifer Lagunas and Lynette Lupia