Ernest Tuckett Of DuPont: Advancing Diversity Within The Legal Profession

Sunday, March 1, 2009 - 01:00
Ernest Tuckett

Editor: Please describe your primary responsibilities with DuPont Legal.

Tuckett: As the corporate counsel for Labor & Employment with DuPont Legal, my primary responsibility is to provide legal advice and guidance on labor and employment and general business matters to business and HR leaders within DuPont's business platforms and at our various plant sites.

Editor: How do you help DuPont in its diversity initiatives?

Tuckett: Currently I chair the Minority Counsel Network (MCN), a network of minority lawyers within DuPont Legal and within our Primary Law Firm (PLF) network. In addition, I am the Project Coordinator of the DuPont Street Law Diversity Pipeline Program.

Editor: What are some of the ways DuPont promotes diversity through its Primary Law Firm (PLF) Network?

Tuckett: In addition to the Minority Counsel Network, DuPont Legal also has the DuPont Women Lawyers Network (DWLN). Both were started a little more than ten years ago by lawyers within the DuPont Legal department and PLF Network with a goal of promoting the networking of minority and female lawyers. In addition, DuPont Legal sponsors regional minority job fairs in August in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Wilmington, DE for law students of color.

Each year, the law firms in our PLF network have to complete benchmarking surveys that include a section with diversity-related questions. They have to discuss such things as the number of minority and women lawyers in their firm and the number of lawyers in each category who have worked on DuPont matters that year. The questions are designed to measure the law firms' progress in achieving diversity within their firms, in the legal teams working on DuPont matters, and among the leadership on DuPont's matters.

Editor: Are the responses rated?

Tuckett: I am not aware of a specific rating being assigned. The law firms receive a report derived from the survey results at our annual Primary Law Firm Network meeting. The results are typically published without the names of the firms being highlighted, but they show in the aggregate how the firms are doing, and that gives everyone in the room the opportunity to see how they compare. One effect of the benchmark survey and sharing this report of results is to encourage the firms to continue promoting diversity.

Editor: What is mission of the MCN?

Tuckett: The mission of the MCN is to advance DuPont, the DuPont Legal Model, the members of the MCN and the profession. The MCN's primary function is to promote and provide networking opportunities and professional development for attorneys of color within the DuPont Legal network. We try to accomplish that through various programs throughout the year, culminating in our annual Minority Counsel Conference. The MCN actually was started as a conference and as time went on it was formalized into a year-round network.

Editor: DuPont also has non-attorney vendors or service providers. Do they have a separate network, or do they also participate in the networks you've mentioned?

Tuckett: The Primary Service Providers participate in the Primary Law Firm Network and meet together with the PLFs at the annual PLF meeting. Also, some of our Primary Service Providers have attended MCN conferences and, I believe, some of the DWLN conferences as well. Editor: In your opinion, how do the MCN members benefit from participating in the network?

Tuckett: Generally, the more a firm demonstrates its commitment to diversity, the more attractive it becomes to clients who value diversity. In terms of specific or individual benefits, several of our activities offer leadership opportunities. For example, the chair of the MCN chooses a group of lawyers from the PLFs and from inside the legal department to serve as the planning committee for that year's conference, and that group, along with the chairs of the standing committees - the networking and marketing committee, the newsletter and communications committee and the mentoring and retention committee - serves as the leadership of the network for that year.

We've got an active group of people from the law firms who get involved in these leadership roles. There are opportunities for them to plan events through the networking and marketing committee. The newsletter committee publishes quarterly highlights of developments within the network relating to diversity, such as minority lawyers coming into the firm and their accomplishments, promotions, etc. The mentoring and retention committee, the newest of the three, seeks to pair senior lawyers with junior lawyers within the MCN for mentoring and development opportunities. Some of the junior lawyers are interested in finding mentors that might even be at other firms within the DuPont network. But the main benefit is the opportunity to network and get to know accomplished minority lawyers who they otherwise may not have met. Some of the network lawyers have gone on from their jobs as partners and associates at their firms to become general counsel and assume other high-level positions with in-house legal departments and governmental agencies. You never really know where your contacts will end up.

Editor: So you have kind of an alumni association?

Tuckett: In the past few years we've started inviting in some prominent alumni of the MCN. One example is J. Michael Brown, who was a partner at Stites & Harbison and was recently appointed by the governor of Kentucky to be one of his cabinet secretaries. He, along with Janet Bivins, who is a DuPont lawyer, actually founded the MCN in 1997. People like Mr. Brown and many others who've moved on to other opportunities often come back to our conferences as speakers and presenters, or just as participants.

Editor: Does MCN have an award system that recognizes achievement?

Tuckett: Yes. The MCN celebrated its tenth anniversary in June of 2008, chaired by Thomas Warnock, Senior Counsel for DuPont. We had a great conference at our headquarters in Wilmington to celebrate, and we presented a number of awards to people like our current General Counsel Tom Sager and then-General Counsel Stacey Mobley, Hinton Lucas, one of our Assistant General Counsel, and other individuals who helped spearhead DuPont's diversity efforts. Every year the MCN presents the J. Michael Brown Award to an individual who has demonstrated commitment to diversity in the legal profession within or outside of the DuPont network. Past recipients have included Charisse Lillie, now a senior vice president at Comcast. She was a lawyer at one of our law firms when she received the award. Also, our law firms have the opportunity to help underwrite our conference and they deserve and receive recognition as well.

Editor: How has the DuPont Legal leadership supported the MCN over the years?

Tuckett: The support of the legal leadership from top to bottom has been outstanding. Frankly, the MCN never would have gotten started without the support of Stacey Mobley and Tom Sager. Over the years they've both been strong advocates for both the women's network and the minority network. In addition, people such as Martha Rees and Hinton Lucas, both Assistant General Counsel under Tom Sager, were pioneers in the women's and minority networks, respectively. The leadership has put its full support behind these networks.

Editor: Please provide just a little more detail about the women's network.

Tuckett: The DuPont Women Lawyers Network (DWLN), along with the MCN, was founded in 1997. Some of the women lawyers in DuPont Legal and the primary law firms planned a conference to provide opportunities for networking among the women lawyers. One of the founding lawyers within DuPont Legal is Lisa Passante, Corporate Counsel. The current chair of the DWLN is Maria Angelo. This year or next, the DWLN will be celebrating its tenth conference anniversary. It has standing committees similar to the committees of the MCN, and also an annual fall mini-conference. The unique thing about the DWLN mini-conference is that it is run almost exclusively by the women in the law firms, whereas the full DWLN conference is led by a DuPont lawyer and comprised of DuPont lawyers and lawyers from the law firm. The mini-conference was spearheaded by the women within the law firms and has been going on for two or three years. I highlight this because it shows the great commitment our law firms have to the DWLN in taking on the expense, time and effort to plan its own conference for education and networking.

Editor: DuPont started a program known as the Street Law Diversity Pipeline Program at a local high school in Wilmington. How were you involved in getting that program started?

Tuckett: In 2006, I was asked by Tom Sager to spearhead a program in Wilmington, Delaware, our headquarters city, under the umbrella of the Street Law Program. We created a high school program at Howard High School of Technology to provide basic legal education and mentoring to about 60 students who expressed an interest in the legal profession. Most of the students who participate in the program, roughly 70 percent, are African-American, and about 15 to 20 percent are Hispanic. About half are women. The students are part of the Legal Administrative Assistants Program at Howard High.

The program has two components. The legal component begins in the fall with sessions teaching the students basic background on legal topics, such as employment law, copyrights, contract negotiations and property. Then, in December, we bring the students to the DuPont Hotel and present a conference consisting of workshops where the students play the roles of lawyers and advocates on these topics, and lawyers from DuPont and our partner firm, Young, Conaway, Stargatt and Taylor, play the roles of their clients.

In the spring, we focus on the second component, which is the mentoring program. The mentoring program has one goal - to give students in the junior year support in the college admissions process. We've put together a series of workshops to teach everything from how to research and select colleges to the application process and its essay component to obtaining financial aid. Paralegals and lawyers within DuPont and Young Conaway do some of the teaching, and we also bring in guest speakers from nearby colleges such as the University of Delaware and the Widener University School of Law Paralegal Program to discuss the admissions process. At each session, these teaching sessions are followed by group meetings between students and their mentors. We apply a team mentoring approach where two mentors are paired to mentor two students.

Two classes of students who were part of this program have graduated and have gone to college with few exceptions. Editor: Is this designed to be a kind of a prototype that might go national?

Tuckett: Actually Street Law, Inc. ( helped train DuPont lawyers and paralegals to conduct this program. Street Law has done the same thing for more than 30 corporate legal departments around the country. You can find more information at, and if you go to their Web site, you'll find a list of the 30 plus corporate diversity pipeline programs and the cities where these programs are conducted.

Editor: Do you have internships?

Tuckett: We do. During their senior year at Howard, participating students go to school half a day and then work half a day in their career field of choice. The LAA teacher Christine Shaub at Howard High has placed students in a number of law firms and government agencies around the city, and DuPont was able to join that effort, employing several of the seniors over the last two years as part of that program.

Editor: Do the Primary Law Firms tend to become involved in local programs of this kind?

Tuckett: One of my goals as the current chair of the MCN is to encourage our firms who don't already engage in this type of pipeline project to consider doing so. A number of firms within our network already have such programs, and others have heard about our program and have called to get ideas about how to start one of their own.

Editor: Is DuPont involved in other diversity pipeline projects?

Tuckett: Yes. There is a program similar to the Street Law program that has existed for years at the Kingswood Community Center here in Wilmington where DuPont lawyers mentor students. That program is led by a DuPont lawyer named Mark Edwards. DuPont also runs the regional minority job fairs that I mentioned earlier. In addition, DuPont is involved in the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) Diversity Scholarship program; the first recipient of the DuPont Scholarship is a student at Georgetown Law Center named Tarik Gause, who is set to graduate in 2010.

Editor: Why do you feel diversity pipeline projects are important to the legal profession?

Tuckett: The main barrier to achieving real progress in diversity in the legal profession cited by many within the profession is the absence of a pool of qualified and talented minority lawyers. I've actually seen the number of African-American and Hispanic law students decrease at a couple of the major schools in the past 10 to 15 years. If we are to achieve sustainable progress, we have to grow the pipeline of minority talent interested in entering the legal profession. These pipeline projects are the key to making that happen.

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