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Checks and Balances: Former AG Holder, Zynga GC Phillips Talk Collaboration in Diversity

December 13, 2019, The Recorder

Eric Holder spoke with The Recorder for a Q&A on diversity in big law and being a role model within the legal community with Phuong Phillips, Zynga chief legal officer.

What is the status of diversity and inclusion in the legal industry? What can we do to improve that?


“Our profession is not yet where it needs to be. Law firms are trying to do a better job, certainly working with our partners, our clients who require more diversity. At Covington, we look at our last partner class, we had 14 people who made partner this year, nine were women, and six are [from] ethnically diverse backgrounds. That’s an indication of where our firm is and the importance that we place on diversity. But as I always say … there is not a tension between diversity and excellence. The people in that partner class from this year are great lawyers, every one of them. One of the things that we have to try to do at firms is to make sure that as we are recruiting at the summer associate level, we’re cognizant of who’s in the class [and] what the diversity of the class looks like. Because it’s from those summer classes that we ultimately get the vast majority of the people who turn out to be the young lawyers and ultimately the partners in our firm."


It sounds like firms and their clients almost act as checks and balances on each other. How can the two parties work together to improve diversity?


“I worked on the Uber matter when I was in Covington, and we made a list of these 42 recommendations. [They included] ways in which people of color [and] women would get opportunities at the company that they were not getting [before the report]. There was a need to increase sensitivity and also to put in place mechanisms. The Rooney Rule is something that we use, and I know that Phuong uses it as well, where you require that there’s a promotional opportunity—a diverse slate of candidates has to be put together. And then from that slate, let me pick who the best person is. And I think what you’ve seen through the use of the Rooney Rule is that selections become more diverse. You have more people of color, more women who get opportunities that they otherwise might not have had the chance to get.”


How do you ensure that fulfilling diversity requirements does not just become a numbers game?


“We’re talking about diversity and inclusion. Inclusion really means giving people of color [and] women real opportunities, the chance to shine, the chance to really be a part of a team and not simply to show up when you’re making a pitch, as outside counsel, but to actually be involved in the solution of the issue that you’ve been hired to do. You have to have both diversity and inclusion and they are different.”


What has been working? What else can be done?


“I think the role that she plays as a prominent GC on a macro level can have an impact on the profession. It’s not just a question of what a company is doing [or] what a law firm is doing, [but] what the legal profession is going to look like. When you have successful women as GCs, [or] former attorneys general of color at law firms, being successful at what they do, that’s an indication that, again, there’s not that tension there, [which] too many people think still exists between diversity and excellence. It also shows young people, young lawyers, that if you work hard, and if opportunities are given to you, that you can succeed.”

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