United for a cause: U.S. District Court Judge Damon Keith (left), and Comerica Executive V.P. and General Counsel George Madison (right), share a moment during day two of the Minority Outside Counsel Networking Conference in Detroit.
Detroit is known worldwide for the automotive industry, but the venerable Midwest town also has made a sizeable contribution to the legal profession – and minority attorneys are a primary reason why.
D. Augustus Straker, Ann Claire Williams, Damon Keith, George Crockett Jr., Wade McCree, and Geraldine Bledsoe Ford are just a few of the prominent African- American judges and lawyers with roots in the Motor City who have gone on to shape history.
The efforts of many of these trailblazers have helped to ensure that the civil rights of all Americans are recognized. However, a struggle continues to get more minorities involved in all areas of the legal profession, particularly the corporate sector.
In an effort to address this issue and expose more minority outside counsel to major corporations, General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and Comerica Incorporated sponsored the Minority Outside Counsel Networking Conference in the fall.
Fittingly, the conference was held in Detroit, where so many legal standouts have been nurtured over the years. "To have this kind of interaction on an adhoc or business-as-usual basis would have taken years, and we did it in a day," said E. Christopher Johnson, Jr., GM North America vice president and general counsel. "A number of my managers have said to me that they have never seen in any one conference or forum, minority, or non-minority, such a collection of fine legal talent in one place."
During the conference, held at GM's headquarters and the Marriott Hotel Renaissance Center, 350 minority lawyers from across the country met top attorneys who hire outside legal counsel for each of the sponsoring corporations.
"We are continually searching for quality representation by outside lawyers who understand our business and can add value through their services ultimately to our share- holders," said George Madison, Comerica executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary. "As with our employees, lawyers of diverse backgrounds and experiences assist us in offering unique and valuable solutions to the problems encountered by our customers and our businesses. From a diversity perspective, we expect our vendor networks to be as robust as the communities we serve," continued Madison.
Madison's views are shared by outside counsel participant Saul Green, an attorney at Miller, Canfield, Paddock, and Stone, P.L.C. in Detroit. "I think the conference was consistent with what is going on today, because corporations recognize that much of their customer or client base is rapidly diversifying and, therefore, it is important that corporations reflect that diversity," said Green.
Green, who is 54 years old, has been practicing for 30 years, but is relatively new to the world of private practice, with just one year at his current firm following a long stint in public service.
"Corporations must represent diversity through their employees and officers, as well as through the companies they contract with for goods and services. Sometimes you hear large corporate entities say they just can't find people, or the pool isn't large enough, but what we had at this conference were 350 very capable, very talented minority counsel who are concerned with advancing their careers."
The success of the Minority Outside Counsel Networking Conference cannot be fully measured until data is available on the number of outside firms that receive additional work due to the event. However, if face-to-face dialogue is the first step to breaking down barriers, organizers say the conference was extremely productive.
"This was a unique opportunity for minority outside counsel to interact with decision makers at three Fortune 500 companies," said Richard Quaranta, a Comerica vice president involved with the planning of the conference.
"Through the workshops, Q&A sessions and discussions, the corporations were able to talk about the services they need as well as the qualifications needed by the outside firms. That type of information is not easy to come by."
Dennis Ross, Ford Motor Co. vice president and general counsel, said, "Ford Motor Company is overwhelmed by the number of outside counsel who attended this conference. While we have an exceptional outside minority counsel program, we are always looking for opportunities to develop partnerships with additional talented outside counsel, and this conference was a perfect venue for us to meet some of the nation's most accomplished lawyers."
Another beneficiary of the conference was the State Bar of Michigan's Access to Justice Development Campaign, which received $120,000 from the net proceeds of the event.
From the January/February 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®