D.C. DIVERSE PARTNERS NETWORK
THE D.C. DIVERSE PARTNERS NETWORK BOASTS MORE THAN 300 MEMBERS AND HOSTS AN IMPRESSIVE LIST OF EVENTS. The upcoming roster includes talks from big names such as Thomas L. Sager, general counsel of DuPont Company; Teri Plummer McClure, senior vice president of UPS; and John Page, corporate vice president and general counsel of Golden State Foods.
Not bad for an organization that did not exist a mere two years ago.
FROM CONCEPTION TO REALITY
In May 2008, Ben Wilson, managing principal at Beveridge & Diamond, took the first step in getting this diversity organization off the ground. He rounded up as many minority and female law-firm partners in the Washington, D.C., area as he could, and invited them to a reception at his firm. The organization he hoped to create wasn’t yet named, but its mission was clear—to create a network that would bring minority partners together and help them prepare for the challenges inherent in their roles as partners. Although his initial list included fifty-five to sixty partners, ninety-five people attended.
Not long after, the organization gained a name: Partners of Color in Washington, D.C., which was later changed to its current name to reflect the broader membership base, which includes women, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and many other groups. Its initial membership included 185 partners from 100 firms, including DLA Piper, Covington & Burling, and Dickstein Shapiro. The organization’s goals were outlined, and its planned activities included the generation of resources for new associates and new partners, business development, and women’s issues. Wilson serves as the unofficial spokesperson of D.C. Diverse Partners Network; the organization is decentralized, and does not have an executive director.
RESOURCES AND OPPORTUNITIES
It’s easy to see why membership appeals to such a large number of partners, beginning with its upcoming list of events.
Early in July, Thomas L. Sager will talk to the group not only about diversity within law firms, but also how one goes about building a practice and working with a significant corporation like DuPont Company. He will discuss how in-house counsel and outside counsel can work together to afford opportunities in diversity and to receive credit for that work. The event will be hosted by Dickstein Shapiro.
Later that month, members of the Judicial Nominating Commission for the District of Columbia will host a forum on how to become a judge, either at the District of Columbia/state court level or on the federal bench. “There has been a dearth of minority women in the federal and superior courts,” Wilson explains. “There has only been one African American woman district judge in D.C. That reflects the fact that change is needed.” The forum will focus on demystifying the process of becoming a judge, with the long-term goal of increasing diversity within the court system. Steptoe & Johnson will host the program.
In addition, the D.C. Diverse Partners Network is organizing a function with senior attorneys at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., to discuss diversity and business opportunities with the company. (Please see the calendar of events for more information.)
Also on tap are educational seminars to provide guidance on gaining prominent legal positions. Speakers promise to provide critical insights to help members succeed as minority partners in the current and future legal environment.
D.C. Diverse Partners Network strives to partner with organizations seeking out, thereby having a direct impact on increasing diversity within the legal arena. A major objective is to help members take advantage of the increased corporate interest in diversity. For example, recent years have seen a heightened interest in diversifying boards of directors. To help members take advantage of this opportunity, the organization plans to host an upcoming forum to guide them through the process of attaining a seat on a board.
Beyond the educational offerings, the benefits of being a member include access to a professional network that can open doors and afford opportunities to contribute to the advancement of diversity. “Increasingly, our network has been a real resource,” Wilson shares. “Clients and other lawyers will call and say, ‘We have a securities or antitrust issue, and we’d like some diverse partners considered for this work. Can you identify anyone for us?’ I occasionally receive calls looking to fill general counsel positions for Fortune 1000 companies.”
Laura Wilkinson, partner of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, has played a critical role in bringing diverse partners and outside firms together. She created the organization’s “Look Book,” a resource profiling its 300 members that is supplied to inquiring parties looking for diversity among their attorneys.
D.C. Diverse Partners Network also provides services traditionally offered by organizations of its kind, including social-oriented programs, a summer associate program, mentoring, outreach to young minorities, and sponsorships and events such as fundraisers for senators and mayoral candidates.
Another key service is a regular newsletter that Wilson creates and sends to members once or twice a week. The newsletter shares information about upcoming events to keep members in the loop; that content also is distributed to non-members who may wish to include job postings that may interest members.
THE SECRET OF SUCCESS
How did this barely-off-the-ground organization reach this successful status in such a short period of time?
It’s a direct result of individual members, replies Wilson. “The key is to have buy-in. This is probably the third or fourth time we’ve attempted something like this, but it’s different now because others share in the responsibility. I hosted the first meeting, but then someone else offered to host the next meeting—and then others raised their hands to host the next events. If people take turns, we can do almost anything.”
And word spreads fast. When members find new opportunities, they share the news with others. When outside organizations find success networking through D.C. Diverse Partners Network, they recommend it to others. It’s a win-win situation.
Wilson also notes that the new generation of lawyers—those in their thirties and forties who have made partner—are eager, ambitious, and full of energy, which has led to the creation of “phenomenal leaders” exhibiting a strong push for change. “We have the ability to be a resource and to have an outstanding impact,” Wilson concludes. “We’re only scratching the surface now.”
Kara Mayer Robinson is a freelance writer based near New York City.
From the July/August 2010 issue of Diversity & The Bar®