Telecoms giant BT has come up with a novel way to encourage its panel law firms to be more diverse, the Gazette has learned: a guaranteed renewal for the firm with the best diversity and inclusion record.

BT announced last week that 15 firms have been appointed to its panel, consolidated down from 40. They are: Addleshaw Goddard, Allen & Overy, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Bird & Bird, CMS, Covington & Burling, DAC Beachcroft, DWF, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Lewis Silkin, Osborne Clarke, Shepherd & Wedderburn, Simmons & Simmons, TLT and Winckworth Sherwood.

The firms will advise on all UK legal matters as well as international matters originating from BT’s head office, under a three-year agreement.

Dave Hart, BT’s transformation director, said multiple factors go into picking the panellists, including pricing. ‘We would look at things like expertise, experience, culture, approach to innovation, and diversity and inclusion’.

BT is a signatory to the General Counsel Statement in Support of Diversity and Inclusion, which was set up last year by GCs in Europe’s largest companies, as well as the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter.

Hart said BT had to feel ‘comfortable’ that the panel firms ‘are adhering to the principles of the charters’.

As an ‘added incentive’, Hart said the firm with the best diversity and inclusion record across all levels – partners, associates and trainees – ‘will automatically be offered a slot on the next panel’.

Measuring how well firms have done will include percentage figures and yearly updates.

BT is not alone in its push to make external firms more diverse. US tech giant HP threatened to withhold up to 10% of costs if law firm partners did not meet minimum diversity requirements. Subsequently more than 170 mostly US-based GCs threatened to pull millions from what they called ‘largely male and white’ firms.