Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image

Houston Chronicle: Shell’s general counsel demands firms prove use of females, minorities

May 13, 2007, 12:21AM
She knows there’s more to diversity than lip service

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Cathy Lamboley’s epiphany changed both her wardrobe and the way some Houston law firms do business.

Lamboley, who last week announced her upcoming retirement as general counsel of Shell Oil Co., used to wear corporate-issue business suits with those ubiquitous pouffy bow ties.

Now she leans toward expressive buttery-soft leather jackets adorned with carefully chosen Mexican and Southwestern jewelry.

Law firms in Houston that wanted lucrative legal work from Shell used to have to agree with the goal of diversity.

Now they have to prove they are using more and more minority and female lawyers on Shell’s multimillion-dollar legal business.

Lamboley, 56, changed her focus in the mid-1990s. By the time she became Shell’s general counsel in 2000 and was able to parcel out the company’s well more than $50 million in annual legal business, she knew what she wanted to do with the power.

She would improve Shell’s bottom line by insisting on diversity and inclusiveness in her workplace and the places she hired.

Legal recruiter Bob Major said that there are two types of law firms: those that give lip service to diversity and those that are driven to it by force or by conscience.

Lamboley is very much the driving force, he said.

What Lamboley has accomplished in her seven years at the helm of Shell’s 140-lawyer in-house legal section includes diversifying her own office — now 43 percent women, 20 percent minorities — pushing law firms to more diversity, mentoring numerous women and minorities and solidifying a national reputation for Shell legal.

That means she’s made tons of loyal friends, especially high-powered female lawyers. And she’s annoyed some folks, too. The only thing she’d change is how quickly she came to the realization that she wasn’t being herself at work.

“In the workplace I wouldn’t talk about my liberal self,” she recalls about back when she dressed in “little gray suits and little blue suits.”

“In the mid-’90s,” Lamboley said, “I realized I had suppressed who I think I really am.”

’60s protester

The daughter of a teacher and a small-businessman, she was an anti-war protester and was tear-gassed several times in college in the late ’60s and early ’70s at the University of Wisconsin.

The idealism faded after graduation as she focused on paying the rent.

Lamboley taught school, then moved to Houston with a boyfriend she would later marry and divorce. She tried insurance claims adjusting.

After consulting a beloved lawyer uncle, now 92 and still very close to her, she attended the University of Texas School of Law, where she is now on the foundation board.

She jumped from UT into the conservative, male-dominated oil patch and joined Shell, where she’s been for 28 years, but not very quietly for the last 10 or so.

At a Shell retreat in 1996, she and others started being candid about how they felt at work.

A vice president who heard her enthusiastic epiphany pulled her into his marketing division.

After happily learning the business side of Shell, she returned to the legal department, where she was named general counsel, and the bigger changes occurred.

To be sure, Shell was already committed to diversity, and a couple of companies outside Houston had started to do what Lamboley would do here.

She saw that Shell was spreading its considerable outside legal work among 675 law firms. She held a “beauty contest” asking law firms to tout their wares, and through that and annual report card reviews, she whittled the list down to 27 “strategic partner” law firms.

These firms have to account to Shell for how many female and minority lawyers work on Shell business, for how many hours they work and what they do.

“The goal is to get a better result,” Lamboley said. “It boils down to: In litigation, in the best deal or in documents, if the references of any group are the same — from the same background, the same interactions — you don’t get the most you can, you don’t get the most innovative and creative.”

Linda Addison, a lawyer at Fulbright & Jaworski, said Lamboley “used the fundamental business principle that what gets measured gets done.”

“It is no coincidence that once Shell began tracking the percentage of hours on its matters performed by women and people of color, the diversity of its law firms increased. Cathy demonstrated that diversity creates a competitive advantage, and that in addition to being the right thing to do, it is good for business,” Addison said.

Mentoring role

Lamboley has mentored and reached out to so many that when lawyer Marie Yeates nominated Lamboley for a coveted American Bar Association award, people and groups vied to write the five nominating letters.

“There was almost a fight about who would do it,” Yeates said. Lamboley won that national award and many other honors.

When Peggy Heeg was named general counsel at El Paso Corp. in 2001, one of her first calls came from Lamboley, whom she didn’t know.

“The call came out of the blue. She gave me a lot of good advice,” Heeg said.

Heeg has seen Lamboley usher, if not drag, other women into charity and leadership groups where they make connections that help them in business.

Heeg joked that neither she nor Lamboley play golf but that their “country club” may be the local United Way Initiative for Women, a $10,000-a-head group of local leaders.

Lamboley has a history of championing causes before they become popular.

Victor Flatt, a law professor at the University of Houston, said he asked for Lamboley’s help for Lambda Legal, which supports the rights of gays and lesbians and was active in the U.S. Supreme Court sodomy case from Houston.

Flatt said Lamboley wrote a letter to law firms on Lambda’s behalf, and local fundraising went from $6,000 annually to $40,000. He thinks her endorsement made a lot of the difference.

Carolyn Benton Aiman, a lawyer at Shell, said Lamboley’s work at the company made it the kind of place she wanted to come to work. Aiman, an African-American, said it mattered to her that she could see people like her who were successful at the company.

“Cathy changed the landscape here,” Aiman said. “She opened opportunities, opened eyes and challenged presumptions.”


There have been critics, of course. Law firm diversity efforts have been accused of promoting people beyond their abilities and slighting others unfairly.

Lamboley said she’s heard from folks who are displeased with her work as well.

She said some white males are threatened.

“I can understand that there being more people at the table, there’s more competition for the seats at the table. But this is a business issue,” she said.

Lamboley gives a lot of speeches and she said afterward, lawyers often come up and thank her for the effect she’s had on their careers.

“That makes up for the criticism,” she said.

She has no plans to take a full-time job when she leaves Shell on July 1.

She said she’ll travel, finish building a house, continue working with the Houston Area Women’s Center and other boards she’s on and maybe take on a corporate board position.

Some of the women Lamboley has helped over the years have become her good friends, and she has a cadre of pals with whom she travels and shops.

A gift, a little placard on the desk in her corner office, sums up her next step.

It says, “Leap and the net will appear.”

Her replacement, Bill Lowrey, is a white male. She said that’s great, because the place needs new perspective.

“It could use fresh eyes. Change is important. I’m leaving a good place in good hands,” she said.

[email protected]

Voices of Houston

johnadonovan wrote:

In fact world-wide, Shell has an army of several hundred in-house lawyers – 650 being the last quoted figure. A visit to the updated Wikipedia article on the controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell, especially in its USA operations, will explain why so many lawyers are needed.

Leaving that to one side, I am sure we all wish Cathy Lamboley a long and happy retirement.

Posted by John Donovan, co-owner of the website:
5/13/2007 2:41:47 AM and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

0 Comments on “Houston Chronicle: Shell’s general counsel demands firms prove use of females, minorities”

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: