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Walking the walk

WILLIAMSBURG–Walmart sometimes takes a beating. How many items have you read where a local preservationist group has banded together to keep a Walmart from being built on some site?

The company, on the other hand, has become a national leader in promoting diversity in the legal profession and at law firms.

Jeff Gearhart, the general counsel for the Arkansas-based retail giant, was the luncheon speaker May 21 at the southeast regional conference of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association held in Williamsburg. The commonwealth’s local chapter, APABA-VA, hosted the affair, which drew about 80 lawyers from Maryland to Florida.

Diversity is important to Walmart, Gearhart said. It’s “not only the right thing to do,” he said, but it makes business sense. The company applies a diversity credo to its own legal hiring, and it has attracted top-flight talent as a result, he noted.

The company also believes in putting its financial clout as a client to work. Gearhart said that a few years ago, Walmart officials reviewed the firms across the country it was using to do its various legal tasks. They looked at firm rosters and who was staffing their cases in their 100 most frequently used firms. Then they fired 40 of them and went looking for firms that practiced what Walmart preached.

Next on Walmart’s radar: Flex time for attorneys, particularly women lawyers. Gearhart said that Walmart believes in providing adjustable hours to employees to allow them to juggle work and family. A comparable review is coming to see how the firms they use treat flex time. Any firm that handles Walmart’s work might want to listen hard to the company’s views on same.

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