When I was a kid growing up in the 1980s, Air Supply was a popular music duo with songs like “Lost in Love,” “All Out of Love,” and “Even the Nights are Better.” Nowadays, another phrase with the word “supply” in it – supply chain – is becoming popular across Corporate America and for in-house counsel.

Last month, President Biden signed an Executive Order on America’s supply chains.  This Executive Order is a must-read for all in-house counsel, it underscores how companies are very reliant on third parties to enable solutions for their customers and that in-house lawyers play an important role to help ensure that their companies’ supply chain are resilient and secure.

Let’s first provide some clarity as to what is meant by a supply chain. A recent post in Supply Chain Digital offered this excellent definition of a supply chain: “A supply chain is defined as the entire process of making and selling commercial goods, including every stage from the supply of materials and the manufacture of the goods through to their distribution and sale.”

The focus of this Executive Order involves a review of key supply chains with the longer term goals of the United States becoming less dependent on foreign goods and to help bolster American manufacturing. The Executive Order involves a 100-day review of products in these four areas: semiconductors, high-capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals and critical minerals/related materials. In addition, there will be yearlong reviews of six industry sectors.

Without a doubt, supply-chain law is a growing legal practice area that all corporate counsel will need to become increasingly conversant in so they can provide high impact legal services to their clients.

Here’s a list of considerations for in-house legal teams to keep top of mind as their deliver supply chain-related legal support to their clients:

Procurement is Paramount: Nearly every organization has a procurement or purchasing group function that has primary responsibility for establishing relationships with suppliers and other entities that are part of a supply chain. In my experience, sometimes the legal support associated with this group has not been as highly valued when compared with other in-house legal practice areas. As we see more focus on the potential opportunities and challenges associated with supply chains, it’s important for all legal teams to invest the appropriate amount of legal resources, time and attention to properly support supply chain-related legal work.

Reviewing & Onboarding Supply Chain Partners: A variety of legal entities can be part of a supply chain network and they all need to partner well together to help ensure success. Legal teams can help their supply chain groups by assisting in the appropriate vetting of supply chain partners prior to consummating a relationship with them. Since many lawyers have deep skills in the area of due diligence, they are in a unique position to help their clients identify any potential “red flags” with potential supply chain partners. Consider developing a scalable and detailed review process akin to a “checklist” when evaluating potential members of your supply chain. Also be sure to develop an appropriate onboarding process for new supply chain partners so they can learn more about your business and are set up for success.

Trustworthiness of Supply Chain Partners: A wise person once said that “trust cannot be claimed – it must be earned.” Given the proliferation of data privacy laws, the increased boldness of cybercriminals and the fact that technology and data are playing a bigger role in our lives, companies need to clearly understand the steps that supply chain partners – and members of their own supply chain – take to properly secure data.  Be sure to include your data privacy, cybersecurity and compliance experts in the process for determining whether or not you can truly trust members of your supply chain to protect the highly important data that may be shared with them and that they will share with others in your supply chain network. It is absolutely critical for members of your supply chain to earn your company’s trust on a constant basis as it relates to data security.

Thoughtful Agreements: Be sure to establish the appropriate written agreements with your supply chain partners that are comprehensive enough to address the totality of your business relationship and are also very clear and straightforward. Organizations should develop standard template agreements to use with their supply chain partners – as well as “fallback”/alternative provisions to use as needed. Think about incorporating your companies’ code of ethics/integrity principles as part of those agreements. As the business changes, also refresh those standard agreements as needed.

Deepening Relationships with your Supply Chain: It’s important to partner closely with the members of your company’s supply chain – especially as they may also be your customers and competitors. Designate senior business leaders at your company who can serve in “Executive Sponsor” roles to the individual members of your supply chain. Perhaps there are also opportunities to convene quarterly business reviews or “check-ins” with members of your supply chain so that you can deepen relationships and mitigate the likelihood of any potential business or legal issues from occurring.

Breaking Down Silos & Center of Excellence: Often times, many dispersed company employees and teams are involved in building supply chains for their respective organizations. As a result, organizations may become siloed in their approaches for managing their respective supply chains and may not properly collaborate. Look for opportunities to centralize how you work with your supply chains, actively share supply chain best practices/lessons learned and identify lawyers and business leaders who can serve as your company’s supply chain “Center of Excellence.”

Responsible Sourcing: Companies should have high standards as to what they should be expecting from their supply chain – especially as it relates to human rights, labor, safety, health and ethical considerations. In the words of Brene Brown, “clear is kind,” so be sure to drive absolute clarity with supply chain members about those expectations. Also, from a corporate social responsibility perspective, companies should be transparent to the public about their focus on responsible sourcing.

Sustainability: Companies across many industries are increasingly focused on sustainability and reducing their carbon emissions as a strategic business imperative. We may also see further regulation in the sustainability space. As you build and evolve your supply chain, consider partnering with companies who are proactively committed to environmental and sustainability considerations and learn from them.

Diversity & Inclusion: As many of us know, diverse and inclusive teams consistently perform non-diverse and less-inclusive teams. Driving greater diversity and inclusion within your supply chains will result in better business outcomes. In addition, as you develop your supply chain network make sure that you have a deep enough and broad enough network so that you are not reliant on just one – or a few – companies. Make sure that your network is well-represented from a geographic diversity perspective and ideally are not based in just one region or country.

Leverage Trusted Technology: As the supply chain area grows, increasingly there are leading technology solutions that can help enable your supply chain to become more productive and resilient. Think about opportunities for deploying highly trusted technology solutions that are rich with product features to help manage your supply chain operations. For instance, Microsoft Dynamics 365 provides cloud-based solutions that are focused on enhancing a company’s supply chain resiliency and agility.

Every company needs to be increasingly focused on their respective supply chains. As in-house counsel, we are in a unique position to help our business clients effectively navigate the growing complexities of the supply chain space.Continue Reading Supply Chain Supplies Opportunities for In-House Counsel

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and reflect upon his legacy, it’s an important reminder that the legal industry has more work to do to advance diversity and inclusion.

We all know about the continued lack of minorities, women, people of color, disabled people and other underrepresented groups in the law – whether it be as employees or in senior positions of authority and influence.

As we think about opportunities to advance greater diversity and inclusion in the legal industry, here’s three points for us to keep in mind:

The Important Business Case for D&I: There have been plenty of science and studies by leading management consulting firms that have demonstrated time and time again that diverse teams outperform teams that are less diverse. I’ve seen this firsthand over the years by being part of and leading an incredible team of high-performing diverse lawyers and legal professionals at Microsoft who continue to deliver high-impact legal support to our sales, marketing and services teams across the United States in our constantly changing technology marketplace. More importantly they have also demonstrated remarkable grit and resiliency during the incredibly difficult times that we have experienced as a society over the past year.

Let’s all remember that while embracing diversity and inclusion for any organization is the morally right thing to do, it’s actually the very smart thing to do. As teams who work in the legal space think about how they can better serve their customers, ignite innovation and be more competitive in their marketplaces, one of the most important investments they can make is in recruiting, developing and retaining a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Please Don’t Ignore Hispanics: Hispanics make up 18% of the population in the United States and they are the largest minority group in our great country. Of course, as we all know, Hispanics don’t make up 18% of “Big Law” law firm partners and General Counsels. In fact, despite the existence of terrific Hispanic talent in the legal area, an argument can be made that Hispanics don’t seem to be actively considered for key positions – especially for senior level roles.

As a proud Hispanic whose Grandparents were born on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico and migrated to the United States mainland, I encourage law firms and legal departments to accelerate the visibility of Hispanics, provide them with opportunities to lead and to please avoid ignoring them – especially since customers are increasingly of Hispanic origin and it’s estimated that Hispanics will make up a quarter of the US population by 2045.

In addition, if we are to see improved and sustained inclusion of Hispanics in the legal world, it will be incumbent upon Hispanics to do more. We need to be bolder, be more visible, be better organized, help each other, build relationships with key career sponsors, learn from others, speak up, and amplify the positive impact we drive as legal leaders to our respective management teams.

Let’s Accelerate & Embrace Change: Ever since I started my legal career over 20 years ago as a young lawyer in the IBM legal department, progress on diversity and inclusion in the legal industry over that period of time has remained slow. What that tells me is that if we want to truly advance greater inclusion in the legal vertical we need to change what we have been doing, learn from others, be more empathetic, try new ideas and not fear making any mistakes.
Continue Reading D&I Observations on Dr. MLK Jr’s Birthday

I have always been a big believer that embracing diversity and inclusion can enhance both our professional and personal lives. Throughout my life I have been positively influenced by important people who come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. While these individuals have helped me become a better lawyer and leader, they have also made me