Walmart Ready: A Template for In-House Legal Departments Seeking to Diversify Outside Counsel Hires

By Vanessa M. Snyder, The Axelrod Firm, P.C., Philadelphia, PA and Preston L. Pugh, formerly with Pugh Jones Johnson, Chicago, IL

At the 2017 NAMWOLF Business Meeting, Alan Bryan, Senior Associate General Counsel—Legal Operations and Outside Counsel Management for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., addressed a crowd of several hundred in-house and outside counsel, highlighting an issue he believed many of the in-house attorneys in the room may be facing: “we noticed a clear underutilization of diverse firms in some practice areas.” According to Bryan, diverse firms were making counsel lists, but were not getting hired. There was a disconnect—hiring attorneys indicated that “we have a unique group of associates—how do we trust [new outside counsel] to go into our stores and work with them?” The answer—we need to make them Walmart Ready!

Bryan and his colleagues developed Walmart Ready, an onboarding program for women and diverse outside counsel from across the country. The program, which is going into its third year, is held at Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. In 2016, Walmart invited approximately 100 pre-screened, women and diverse outside counsel for a day of training on its business, company culture, and legal operations, along with practice area breakout sessions. Walmart Ready was effective from its launch, garnering at least 25% of attendees with new assignments or expanded representation of Walmart within a year of attending.

Business and Culture

A substantial portion of Walmart Ready focuses on training outside counsel on Walmart’s business and culture. To kick off the 2016 Walmart Ready, Matt Kistler, SVP Global Consumer Insights and Analytics for Walmart, presented outside counsel with an overview of the company’s U.S. customer analytics and trends.

As to business and culture, Ramona Henry, from the Global Office of Culture, Diversity & Inclusion, provided an insightful discussion regarding Walmart’s commitment to diversity and how it is incorporated into the culture and business model.

Legal Department

With a large legal department, navigating the different levels, titles, and departments can be a steep, inefficient learning curve for outside counsel. Walmart’s General Counsel, Karen Roberts, provided attendees with a crash course on the legal department’s structure, which was followed by in-depth panels with specific, candid pointers for working with Walmart from practice areas heads.

Practice Area Breakout Sessions

In addition to training on Walmart’s business, culture, and legal department’s structure, Walmart Ready gave attendees the opportunity to meet practice area case managers in small, informal breakout sessions. During these breakout sessions, case managers discussed areas of need, honest tips on how they like their work handled, and details about how their departments work.

The benefits of Walmart Ready flow both ways: in-house attorneys can hire pre-screened, diverse outside counsel trained on the company’s business, culture, and legal department, and outside counsel can market themselves and, if retained, be in a better position to serve Walmart.

Walmart Ready is efficient in its delivery and execution and could be replicated by other in-house legal departments that are facing the “underutilization” problem identified by Bryan and his team. It would not be surprising if such programs become the newest best practice for hiring outside counsel!