Welcome

Wilson Sonsini Sees Automation Opportunity in Diversity Push

Oct. 7, 2020, 9:01 AM

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s automation arm, SixFifty, has launched a product to help companies manage diversity and inclusion programs as their popularity surges.

By prompting a user to answer a series of 43 questions, SixFifty’s new product creates an “action plan,” drafts diversity and inclusion policies, and allows companies to poll workers or receive complaints regarding corporate culture.

The tool will be free for nonprofit organizations, and will cost between $2,500 and $15,000 for companies based on their size. SixFifty will also offer consulting on diversity initiatives through a partnership with Neelam Chand, a Utah-based diversity, equity and inclusion professional.

Kimball Parker, SixFifty’s founder and CEO, said the product was built after Wilson Sonsini’s employment lawyers received a flood of questions about how to improve corporate diversity in the wake of the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, which sparked national conversations about race.

Law firms have for decades struggled to increase diversity in their own ranks. An industry survey in 2019 finding that just 2% of partners are black. Many of the largest firms have made new commitments recently.

“How do we increase diversity and inclusion in our workforce? That’s actually a really, really tricky legal area,” Parker said. “There is a question about whether employers can put their finger on the scale for a diverse applicant. And the answer is a maze of statute and cases.”

The tool is the fourth commercial product launched by SixFifty since its early 2019 founding. It is the second product rolled out in direct response to broader societal changes, following a portal that crafts return-to-work policies related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Parker said the demand for this product may eclipse what the company has seen so far for its other tools, which relate to data privacy laws in Europe and California. Providing practical guidance for human resources departments may be a bigger market than products aimed at legal departments, he said. The company already has “millions” in recurring revenue, Parker said.

SixFifty is a rare subsidiary among Big Law firms aimed at making automated products for routine legal problems. Few firms have dedicated resources to products that can cannibalize billable hours, although the number is rising.

John Linton, an in-house lawyer at Holiday Oil, which operates about 65 gas stations in Utah, said the tool has helped institutionalize a diversity and inclusion program for hiring managers at each of the company’s stores. It forces managers to consider diversity and inclusion as part of the hiring process, Linton said, which can be glossed over in a rush to manage the high turnover among gas station attendants.

He said the tool replaces the company’s previous approach to the problem: Hiring an outside law firm to conduct an audit of the company’s human resources policies and drafting a report priced at about $500 an hour.

“Then it just goes to a black hole, and most of the advice ends up being reactionary instead of forward-looking,” Linton said. “I like the idea of having a prophylactic approach where we are preventing more problems instead of reacting to things.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

To read more articles log in. To learn more about a subscription click here.