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Collaborative Succession Planning

As corporate legal departments look for ways to increase diversity among their outside counsel, LCLD Member organization 3M has found a simple but impactful measure—relationship partners and their successors. And the company is working with law firms to help them succeed. 

In 2014, 3M began requiring law firms in its Preferred Counsel Network (PCN) to demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion—through information like attorney demographics, support for affinity groups, and pro bono causes related to racial and social justice. 

But LCLD Member Ivan Fong, General Counsel of 3M, knew there was more work to be done. As the company as a whole began placing greater emphasis on diversity, and the legal department changed its policy around billable hours, Fong began looking for a new metric to drive change that wasn’t based on hourly data.  

The Value of the Relationship Partner Role  

In 2015, 3M introduced a new diversity metric for its PCN firms: Each preferred firm must have a diverse* individual serving as the relationship partner and/or at least one of two identified successors. 

“By introducing this new metric, our intent was to share the relationship responsibility and its attendant recognition and rewards among a broader and more diverse group of lawyers,” Fong said. 

As 3M defines it, a relationship partner is the firm lawyer who receives primary financial credit and recognition for the 3M relationship and work. And even when there is not a specific financial benefit to the relationship partner (such as origination credit), Fong and his team believe the visibility of the relationship partner role—within both the individual’s firm and 3M—is a benefit that should be shared.  

Tracking the diversity of the relationship partner(s) and their successor(s) also simplify things for the legal department.  

“Unlike prior, laudable efforts, this measure does not require calculation of hours or a subjective assessment of who played substantial roles on 3M’s matters,” said Eric Rucker, 2016 LCLD Fellow and Assistant General Counsel, Litigation at 3M. “It also supports our emphasis on having diverse teams work on our legal matters, and shows the value of the investments that non-diverse lawyers have made in building their relationships with 3M.” 

*Diverse is defined as females, racial or ethnic minorities, persons self-identified as LGBT, persons with disabilities, or military veterans.

Collaborating for Success  

A critical component of this program’s success is that 3M’s expectations for relationship partners extend beyond the identification of a diverse individual. The company expects the relationship partners and successors to be directly involved in understanding 3M’s business and legal needs, and expects firms to develop those successor attorneys, Rucker said. 

But 3M also works with its preferred counsel to ensure that those diverse successors are prepared to assume the role of relationship partner.  

“By introducing this new metric, our intent was to share the relationship responsibility and its attendant recognition and rewards among a broader and more diverse group of lawyers.”
— Ivan Fong 

3M hosts an annual summit for its PCN firms, bringing them into the organization and getting them greater exposure to the company’s business; many relationship partners and/or successors can attend this meeting. But 3M went a step farther, and began reserving every other summit for the successors, creating unique opportunities for them to build and deepen relationships with 3M leaders. Both summits provide successors an opportunity to hear updates on the company from the general counsel and other senior management, receive insights on how 3M approaches legal matters, and learn what 3M expects from outside counsel.  

3M added one unique benefit at the most recent summit: a Data Innovation Project, through which successors had the opportunity to submit a brief presentation on innovative or data-related best practices at their firms. A panel of judges then chose five successors to share their presentations with the full group at the summit. One of last year’s presentations highlighted a firm’s data-based approach to building more diverse teams. 

Measuring Results 

In addition to the obvious measure of success—that preferred firms are identifying, engaging with, and developing diverse attorneys for critical leadership roles—3M has also seen other signs that this metric is meaningful: 

  • In a survey after its 2019 Successor Summit, 50 of 51 attendees said the Data Innovation Project presentations were helpful—a win for both the attendees and the diverse successors who presented.   
  • Some attendees found the successor role and the summit so valuable, they asked if they could identify successors to their successors—an idea 3M is considering implementing at its next summit.  
  • 3M’s legal team also shared anecdotally that they’ve seen many successors developing a better understanding of the relationship partner role, taking on greater responsibility, and crafting their own strategic approach to the relationship. 

For more information about 3M’s Successor Summit or Preferred Counsel Network, please contact Eric Rucker

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