Tom Sager – Agent Of Change And Promoter Of Diversity

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 10:11

Tom joined DuPont Legal in 1976, became associate general counsel in 1994, chief litigation counsel in 1998, vice president and assistant general counsel in 1999 and rose to senior vice president and general counsel in July 2008. 

This newspaper was launched in September 1993. Among its goals was to bring to the attention of corporate counsel developments in law department management as well as other developments in the law that deserved their attention. In 1997 what was happening at DuPont Legal began to capture our attention – and we became the chronicler of leading-edge developments there that foreshadowed revolutionary changes, not only in the role of corporate counsel but also in the involvement of minorities and women.

In the years following World War II, Wall Street law firms and their counterparts in big cities across the country were the masters of the then-legal universe. Significant legal matters affecting corporations were handled by them – not by corporate legal departments. Fast forward to 1997 to a totally different legal world where convergence was taking place. DuPont Legal was one of the first law departments to radically reduce the number of law firms receiving its business. (Tom presided over this program.)

For most law departments, concentrating their work in fewer law firms and service providers enabled them to achieve significant savings (and more focused attention to their needs) – and that was their sole motivation. Not so for DuPont! Convergence for it meant that its new network of primary law firms not only achieved great savings through common use of technology and sharing of best practices in handling similar matters but also made it possible for DuPont Legal, as well as its primary law firms, to invest in each other’s financial success, which in turn served as an incentive for firms to embrace this unique partnering concept.  

Tom played a major role in creating the DuPont Legal Network and creating a variety of organizational formats to assure that the long-standing commitment of DuPont and DuPont Legal to diversity would play a major role. For example, the DuPont Legal Minority Counsel Network is a body of attorneys of color who work for DuPont or for one of DuPont’s primary law firms who are dedicated to creating opportunities for minorities. The mission of the DuPont Women Lawyers Network is to positively impact the business of DuPont by promoting legal excellence through the success, development and professional advancement of women lawyers in the DuPont Network.

Tom also encouraged DuPont Legal to organize its first Minority Job Fair in 1994 to assist its primary law firms with their minority recruitment efforts. Today, it is a successful multi-city event, bringing in more than 500 resumes from minority law students around the country who interview with DuPont primary law firms. The Minority Job Fair has earned DuPont Legal the National Association for Legal Placement’s Mark of Distinction Award.

The legal departments of DuPont, General Motors, Sara Lee, Shell Oil, and Walmart, five of America’s leading corporations, announced initiatives in 2005 to increase the amount of corporate legal work being sent out to minority-owned law firms. These corporations were sparked into action by a DuPont Legal study that found that the number of successful minority-owned law firms representing U.S. corporations had dwindled over the previous 15 years.

Many young people have never been exposed to lawyers and might not consider a career in the legal profession. These same young people probably get their impression of lawyers from television. As a result, society as a whole suffers as many talented students who would otherwise shine in the legal profession choose other career opportunities. To address this situation, DuPont Legal’s pipeline programs provide opportunities for some inner-city students by helping to increase their awareness of the variety of careers in the legal profession.

Tom’s dedication to diversity is not manifested only within DuPont; he is past chairman and a director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, a group that advocates the expanded hiring, retention and promotion of minority attorneys in corporate law departments and the law firms they serve. It gives the Thomas L. Sager Award to law firms that have demonstrated sustained commitment to advance the hiring, retention and promotion of diverse attorneys. Cruising the web, you will find that law firms proudly display that award. Tom is also a member of the CPR National Task Force on Diversity in ADR.

But Tom is not satisfied with bringing change to DuPont. He and his associates spend many hours with the leaders of other law departments, helping them institute similar programs. As an agent of ongoing change, we plan to feature an interview of Tom on the front cover of our March issue discussing the successes of some of the programs we have described and most importantly probing his vision for the future.