When Otsuka Pharmaceutical general counsel Karen Gally was forming an in-house program to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal profession, she turned to Pillsbury for its ideas and input.

"I can't do my job, I can't be the best lawyer for my company without a diverse group of lawyers around me," she told Law360 during a recent interview. "Every problem is complex and dynamic. Rarely do I have the luxury to say, 'Here's the answer, it was so easy.'"

This spring, Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.—which has U.S. headquarters in both Princeton, New Jersey and Rockville, Maryland—launched its diversity accelerator program with four full-time and part-time secondees who are based remotely. Two of those secondees were from Pillsbury.

"I need diversity in the profession, and this is a way to try to encourage people, if they've chosen a firm, to have success at their firm, to be able to move to the next level," Gally said.

Otsuka’s innovative accelerator program recently won the Association of Corporate Counsel National Capitol Region chapter’s 2021 In-House Innovator Award.

“We were at a point in time where we needed some extra help in our department and we were going to bring in secondees,” Gally explained. “Since I became GC, we've been working on diversity efforts. We thought, What if we made this a diversity accelerator program and had the firms make commitments to the secondees about their careers when they return to the firms, and then we in turn would make commitments to help them advance their careers when they got back to their firms?”

With Pillsbury Employment Law partner Jean Kuei at the lead, the firm demonstrated its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion to Otsuka, developed a partnership proposal, and identified the right mix of associates to provide a meaningful experience there. Ultimately, Corporate associate Brandon Eckford and Intellectual property associate Tiffany Kuo started working with Otsuka’s in-house team on general business and IP matters in March.

“This [program] is different in that it's very purpose-driven,” Gally said. “Each firm is making a commitment to the associate. We're making a commitment. I talked to each of the secondees and I said, ‘You have free rein to talk to me about what you want to work on and find something that makes you the go-to person for that when you get back to your firm. If you're a specialist in, say, health care investigations or litigation, really dig into some sort of aspect that makes you the expert, that nobody else at your firm has.’ We can most likely make that happen and give them a project or give them exposure to people.”

From the firm’s perspective, Gally said that measuring success “is a little bit more of a long-term view because it's giving people a foundation for something that takes years at a law firm. They're going to be on a partner track. One firm's commitment was that they would guarantee a seat in a limited-enrollment, yearlong development program. It's looking at the future careers of these associates, and somehow measuring that this secondment made a difference.

“Anything that people can do to increase diversity, as I said, it makes us better lawyers and we deliver the best product that we can,” Gally concluded. “Without diversity you're in an echo chamber and not delivering the best product. I don't think it matters [whether] you're a global company, a pharmaceutical company; you could be selling sporting goods or construction materials.”