Commitment to diversity bags Reed Smith top Sara Lee place

Sara Lee Corporation has promoted US firm Reed Smith to the top tier of its panel, due in part to the firm’s commitment to promoting racial and sexual diversity.

Sara Lee, which manufactures a broad range of underwear lines such as Wonderbra and Playtex, as well as food and household products, has moved into the second year of its preferred partner programme, which was launched by general counsel and diversity champion Roderick Palmore.

Reed Smith joins Sidley Austin Brown & Wood and Chicago firm Greene and Letts as Palmore’s three preferred partners. Atlanta-based Constangy Brooks & Smith has been relegated from preferred status.

When Sara Lee appoints outside counsel, preferred partners are rewarded by being first choice. Others, such as Kilpatrick Stockton, Kirkland & Ellis and Palmore’s previous firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, reside in the two lower tiers of the panel.

The company analysed several years worth of data on the number of minorities and women in each firm, their status and the firms’ plans for improving these numbers.

Firms in the second and largest category were deemed by the company to have provided excellent legal services but to have had an inconsistent approach to diversity.

Firms in the bottom tier are also considered to have provided good quality legal services but have not shown any commitment to diversity. The amount of work outsourced to these firms will be reduced.

Costangy chairman Lee Boeke said: “We’re disappointed in moving from the preferred provider status to the second tier level this year with Sara Lee. Our firm has a strong commitment to diversity independent of our present status with Sara Lee. We’re aggressively recruiting minority candidates for lateral partners as well as associates – our number of associates of colour has tripled in the last year.

“We’re also proud of how women are represented in the firm, including top leadership roles such as office head and executive committee. We have an active council composed of minorities and females from offices across the firm to lead our diversity efforts.”