DuPont’s Minority Counsel Network and Its 10th Anniversary Minority Counsel Conference
Before 1992, the DuPont Legal Department had more than 350 law firms representing the company. That year, the Legal Department developed and began to implement the DuPont Legal Model to drastically reduce the number of its outside counsel. It selected primary law firms (PLFs) that met DuPont’s needs, provided high-quality service, and were committed to hiring and advancing women and minorities. The DuPont Legal Model recognized that diversity was not only the right thing to do, but that it was good for business and gave the company a competitive edge. A company with diverse attorneys had an advantage when appearing before increasingly diverse judiciary and juries.
Over a three-and-a-half-year “convergence process,” DuPont shrank its outside counsel ranks to 34 PLFs and reduced its plethora of service providers and consultants. The effects on diversity were dramatic, notes Janet Bivins, corporate counsel at DuPont. “In 1993, when I arrived in DuPont, there were 350 firms representing the company. They were just beginning to trim that number down. Diversity was a key factor in the whittling-down process. Assistant General Counsel Tom Sager headed up and was instrumental in that process.” DuPont was doing a lot to advance diversity. Much of it could only be described as groundbreaking. Despite this, it felt it needed to do more. This urgency would give birth to the DuPont Minority Counsel Conference.
“DuPont made it a priority to encourage diversity from the beginning of its convergence program. But after several years, we felt that we weren’t making as much progress as we would have liked,” says J. Michael Brown, formerly of Stites & Harbison, PLLC (a DuPont PLF) and currently Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet for the State of Kentucky. “So in April of 1997, I discussed with Tom Sager how we could make our diversity program more effective and measure the results. My suggestion to Tom was to convene a minority counsel conference to get input from the minority lawyers on the DuPont legal staff and its network of law firms. The concept of the conference was to bring as many of our minority attorneys as possible together in one place to come up with focused recommendations that we could then use to improve our efforts.”
Sager thought it was a great idea. Brown then approached Janet Bivins, DuPont’s corporate counsel, about developing the conference. “Michael had suggested to Tom that DuPont help firms find diverse talent to live up to the company’s emphasis on diversity,” notes Bivins. “Michael then asked me to work with him to organize the conference to help firms recruit minority attorneys. I agreed, and we sat down and developed a program. I handled the details from the in-house perspective, such as speakers and logistics. Michael and I determined the scope of the program.”
The concept became a reality on March 10 and 11, 1998, when DuPont Legal and its PLFs met in Wilmington, Del., DuPont’s headquarters, for the first Minority Counsel Conference. DuPont asked each of the PLFs to submit the names of all their minority attorneys, regardless of whether they worked on DuPont matters. Personal invitations were sent to 182 identified minority attorneys. Only attorneys of color were invited. Many came. It was the first time many of these attorneys had met each other. It was very uplifting for them to know there were other attorneys who shared their experiences.
The attendees brainstormed what DuPont and its PLFs could do better to hire, retain, and promote minority attorneys. The attendees divided into breakout groups to identify the most-needed changes. In addition, each attendee was given an anonymous ballot asking the one thing they would do if they were in charge to improve diversity at DuPont and at their firms. The responses from the breakout groups and the ballots revealed an amazing consensus.
The attendees agreed that DuPont and its law firms had to aggressively search out and hire talented attorneys, and discussed how to do so. The goal was to create a “critical mass” of minority lawyers. Also, mentoring programs needed to be developed to retain these attorneys. There was universal agreement that the PLFs had to be held accountable when it came to diversity. The attendees believed that action by DuPont was necessary to force the PLFs to do more. Left to their own devices, the PLFs would not recruit and retain adequate numbers of minority attorneys. Therefore, attendees agreed that DuPont should help firms in their efforts to diversify: Those that did would be rewarded, and those that did not could face sanctions, possibly even dismissal from the DuPont network.
Memphis Conference 2003 (pictured left to right) Don C. Brown, Corporate Counsel-DuPont (Chairperson 2003 MCC); Chyr•rea Sebree, Senior Counsel-DuPont (Chairperson 2002; Co-Chairperson 2001 MCC); Janet Y. Bivins, Corporate Counsel-DuPont (Co-Founder and Chairperson 1998, 1999, 2000; Co-Chairperson 2001 MCC); and J. Michael Brown (Co-Founder), who at the time was partner with Wyatt Tarrant & Combs—the host firm for the 2003 conference that culminated with a tour and banquet at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. Presently he is the Secretary of Justice and Public Safety for the State of Kentucky.
DuPont Minority Counsel Network
The attendees returned to DuPont and to their respective PLFs with a plan of action to increase and secure diversity. Bevin recalls, “As a result of the initial conference, specific recommendations were formulated and circulated to DuPont Legal and our PLFs. We developed ideas of programs we could implement here in DuPont. In turn, Michael presented the ideas and challenges to the various engagement partners (many of whom were not minorities). Each firm, as well as DuPont, adopted its own program to implement the recommendations to fit its particular circumstance.”
The conference would become an annual event, providing attorneys an opportunity to network, to celebrate their successes, and to discuss solutions to the issues of recruiting, mentoring, and retaining attorneys like themselves. Each year it is held at DuPont’s headquarters or in a home city of one of its PLFs. “The Minority Counsel Network conferences have produced many outstanding substantive programs that truly add to the credibility and reputation of the network and entire program,” says Hinton Lucas, associate general counsel of DuPont.
From these annual conferences, the attendees developed the Minority Counsel Network (MCN) to advance the annual conference’s objectives and build on its programs. Every person of color in DuPont Legal and in the PLFs is automatically a member, regardless of whether they are active in the MCN.
Attendees of the first Minority Counsel Conference agreed that DuPont and its law firms had to aggressively search out and hire talented attorneys, with a goal of creating a “critical mass” of minority lawyers.
Over the years, the MCN has focused on helping its members build relationships, promote one another as professional resources, cultivate meaningful mentoring relationships, and ensure a critical mass of attorneys of color. “The MCN has been instrumental in helping to put teeth and credibility into the diversity initiatives of the DuPont Legal Model,” notes Lucas. “It also has and continues to play an important role in the critical areas of the recruitment, retention, and development of minority attorneys within our network of law firms and suppliers. But it also has become an effective avenue for business referrals, marketing opportunities, and the like.”
The MCN does much of its work through three committees: Communications/Newsletter; Networking/Marketing; and Mentoring/Retention. The Communications/ Newsletter Committee publishes a quarterly newsletter that contains success stories of its members, continuing legal education information, and member-authored articles. Dawn Tezino, shareholder at Mehaffy Weber LLP and co-chair of the committee, notes that the newsletter is a wonderful networking tool, allowing members to learn more about other members and refer business to them. “We look to others in the network to refer cases to,” she notes.
The newsletter also promotes DuPont’s annual Minority Job Fair, to which Tezino credits her own job. DuPont Legal organized its first Minority Job Fair in 1994 to assist its PLFs with their minority recruitment efforts. Today, it is a successful multi-city event, bringing in more than 500 resumes from minority law students. “I believe I am the only minority attorney hired through the job fair who has risen through the ranks and made partner,” notes Tezino. She hopes that others will soon join her.
The Networking/Marketing Committee provides networking opportunities for Minority Counsel Network members both inside and outside the MCN. The committee is working on several projects: (1) developing a directory of all attorneys of color at DuPont’s PLFs; (2) developing marketing and networking programs to be presented as breakout sessions during the annual Minority Counsel Network Meeting; and (3) inviting general counsels and other high legal and corporate officials of major national and regional companies to informal meetings with network members.
DuPont, through its network, emphasizes networking and marketing because it wants to see the attorneys of color from its PLFs develop relationships with one another and help each other succeed. “The network has enabled me to meet other attorneys of color, and it’s been invaluable,” notes Eleasalo “Salo” Ale, partner at Faegre & Benson. “It’s a great opportunity to develop relationships with other minority lawyers around the country and sources of business referrals.”
Lucas concurs. “One of the things I am really proud of is that those in the network have utilized other network members to get more business and, in turn, have helped them get more business.”
DuPont and its network mentored and supported Emilie R. Ninan, partner at Ballard Spahr. “DuPont provided me with an invaluable, supportive network of attorneys of color, which I did not have within my firm when I started practicing. DuPont also encouraged my former firm to give me the opportunity to work on various DuPont matters as an associate. In addition, the annual conference provided an avenue for me to demonstrate my leadership and public speaking abilities.” Now Ninan wants to return the favor by ensuring that those coming up behind her have similar opportunities. “For me, it’s about serving as a mentor and encouraging attorneys of color to be proactive in their own professional development.”
DuPont Minority Counsel Network
The Mentoring/Retention Committee has emerged as a primary focus for improving diversity at law firms, because hiring does no good if it is followed by attrition. The committee emphasizes advancement as crucial to retention and mentoring as crucial to advancement. Its goals are to (1) create a mentoring and retention program that the PLFs can adopt and (2) develop a mentoring program within the network itself.
Through the work of its committees, the network has grown in size and influence. This year, the network celebrates the conference’s 10th anniversary. Thomas A. Warnock, senior counsel at DuPont, is this year’s network chair. He says, “It is truly an honor to have the opportunity to chair the DuPont Minority Counsel Network as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Minority Counsel Conference.”
The theme for the 10th Anniversary is “Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow—10 Years and Counting.” In keeping with that theme, DuPont will measure how far its PLFs have come in terms of diversity, and the network will continue to chart a course for future improvements of its diversity related efforts. “Each year, the network studies the outside firms’ numbers in terms of diverse attorneys, number of diverse partners, and number and types of diversity programs,” Warnock notes. “This year, we will be comparing the 10th anniversary numbers to years past, as well as to national averages.” The expectation is that much progress has been made by DuPont PLFs over the last decade.
Also this year, invitations to the conference will be extended to other corporate representatives, “inviting them to come with us, learn with us, and celebrate with us. We hope that by inviting others to participate, this conference will catch on, and other companies will want to implement similar programs at their places of business,” notes Warnock.
MCN has planned an ambitious agenda for its 10th Anniversary Conference.
As in years past, the conference will celebrate contributions that attorneys of color have made to the profession. Salo Ale is helping plan the 10th anniversary conference and is putting together a panel, consisting of lawyers of color holding leadership positions in state and national bar associations, to discuss their success and the benefits of community service through bar association and other pro bono service. Panel members will include, among others, Francisco Angones, the first Cuban-born president of the Florida State Bar; Charlie J. Harris, the first African American elected president of the Missouri State Bar; Andrew T. Hahn, President-Elect of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association; and Ramona Romero, President-Elect of the Hispanic National Bar Association.
And once again, the MCN will announce at the conference the recipient of the J. Michael Brown Award. Recipients are members of DuPont’s MCN who have achieved significant success in efforts to increase and promote diversity in the profession. The award was instituted in 2001 and named after Brown for his groundbreaking efforts in conceptualizing the conference and bringing it to fruition. “This entire conference was his brainchild,” notes Bivins. “To my knowledge, no one else was doing anything like this.” Brown was presented with a replica of the award at the 2001 conference. Bivins received the award in 2005 for her work on the conferences, as well as her work in the legal community to advance diversity in the profession.
Looking back over the past 10 years, the network, its committees, and the annual conference have touched the lives and careers of many attorneys of color. “During my travels throughout the country, it is very apparent to me from the comments, questions, and other inquiries that the Minority Counsel Network has had an effect on the legal profession far beyond DuPont,” notes Lucas.
Rodrigo E. Salas, partner at Dillingham & Murphy, LLP., attributes his promotion to partner directly to his work on DuPont matters. “DuPont gave my firm very good feedback about my work, and I was able to parlay that into a partnership position. DuPont is constantly evaluating what it and the network can do together to do better, to increase opportunities within the PLFs, and to celebrate the successes and contributions of minority lawyers.”
Stacey J. Mobley, senior vice president and general counsel of DuPont, agrees that the network’s influence goes well beyond DuPont. “I have seen individuals involved in the network grow and develop. I have seen new lawyers turn into confident, experienced ones. By no means am I suggesting it has only been because of the network, but the network aided in them getting confidence and in them succeeding. We want lawyers representing us who are successful, whose spheres of influence are increasing. We have a deep view that we want to improve our profession. We want to leave it better than how we found it, and feel that the network and the annual conferences have helped us do so.”
It is clear that DuPont’s efforts have had a real impact. PLFs employ more women attorneys and attorneys of color. More diverse attorneys represent DuPont. And nearly all PLFs have active diversity programs that have been responsible for diversifying our profession. These achievements are due in no small part to DuPont’s Minority Counsel Network and its annual Minority Counsel Conference. DB
Francisco Ramos Jr., Esq., is a freelance writer and partner at the Miami-based offices of Clarke Silvergate Campbell.
From the May/June 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®