Where Diversity Is The Backbone Of The Firm: A Diverse Organization Is A More Effective Organization

Monday, February 27, 2012 - 15:13

The Editor interviews Stacey J. Mobley, Senior Counsel, Dickstein Shapiro LLP. Mr. Mobley had a noteworthy career at E. I. du Pont de Nemours (DuPont), which he joined in 1972 as the company's first African-American lawyer. He retired as senior vice president, chief administrative officer, general counsel, and a member of the office of the chief executive on June 5, 2008. He joined the law firm of Dickstein Shapiro LLP in 2008 as senior counsel and member of that firm's Diversity Committee.

Editor: Please tell us about your current practice and your role on the firm’s Diversity Committee.

Mobley: Having become aware of the firm’s excellent State Attorneys General Practice, I joined Dickstein Shapiro in 2008 at the suggestion of Bernard Nash, who leads that practice. After I retired, he suggested that I join the firm in an advisory capacity. I am also a member of the firm’s Diversity Committee, which has enabled me to share with my colleagues some of DuPont’s strategies and offer a different perspective to a very important issue.

Editor: Were DuPont values instrumental in your decision to join Dickstein Shapiro?

Mobley: As you know, DuPont has a primary law firm network through which it drives the company’s values. During my tenure at DuPont, Dickstein Shapiro was very much a part of that network and supported those values, especially efficiency, diversity and collaboration. In 2006, Dickstein Shapiro won the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s (MCCA) Thomas L. Sager Award for the Mid-Atlantic region based on its significant accomplishments in and solid commitments to diversity – a clear reflection of the firm’s commitment to fostering the values that DuPont holds dear.

Editor: Can you expand on these values of efficiency, diversity and collaboration?

Mobley: While the firms in the network are varied in terms of location and expertise, DuPont envisioned that this group could work well together in representing the company. As a result, DuPont shares certain internal tools, such as the Six Sigma methodology; its network and conferences for minority and women lawyers; and the development of alternate fee arrangements and electronic billing, etc. Regarding collaboration, DuPont pioneered the notion of network referrals, even for legal matters that didn’t specifically involve the company. So in very profound ways, it reinforces those values and practices throughout the network and seeks continuous improvement every year.

Editor: Please discuss the mentoring relationship and the firm’s commitment to supporting its young lawyers. How does the mentor relationship help diverse attorneys in particular?

Mobley: 2009-2010 was a difficult economic time for law firms, and Dickstein Shapiro was no exception. As we focused on minority lawyers and issues important to their retention and advancement, we determined we had to do something distinctive, new and creative. Soon after my arrival, the firm created the Advancement and Retention Oversight Committee – in addition to the Diversity Committee.

This new committee focuses on our minority associates, including mentoring, but also assesses their workload and overall professional development. The committee continues to be a work in progress. There is an even greater role for mentoring now because corporate clients are increasing internal staff and are placing less work with outside firms. Mentoring helps our associates learn and more quickly develop critical skills with respect to relating to clients and understanding their expectations, which, in turn, helps business development.

Editor: Please talk about your own experience as a mentor.

Mobley: I’ve worked with many mentees throughout my career, not just those from Dickstein Shapiro or DuPont, but people I’ve met along the way. It is rewarding to be able to share real and personal experiences – those that worked and, more importantly, those that didn’t – and a mentoring relationship is very useful, particularly for the firm’s associates trying to establish their own client base and distinguish themselves professionally.

Editor: What are some of the current challenges for diverse attorneys in advancing their careers? What tools does the firm offer to overcome these challenges?

Mobley: One of the biggest challenges for any associate is business development, even more so for minority attorneys who may have fewer outlets for establishing visibility to clients. Such visibility enables associates to show they understand their clients' business and can help solve business problems. It is difficult for a young lawyer who has gone from associate to counsel to partner overnight to possess the skills needed for business development. My hope would be that firms provide a more formal developmental program on using outside pitches; on how to use specific issues that are of interest to potential clients; and on how to project that you have subject matter knowledge to solve the clients’ problems. I would think that most law firms would formalize that process as opposed to resorting to ad hoc arrangements.

Editor: Obviously providing that kind of training certainly sounds like one of the tools that the firm offers to overcome these challenges. Are there any other initiatives that help with client development? I spoke to a general counsel recently who talked about pro bono programs shared with outside attorneys in helping to bond the corporation and the firm. 

Mobley: At Dickstein Shapiro, we have a pro bono program that is a great tool for providing opportunities for associates to garner leadership roles in managing client relationships and case developments. Experiences cumulatively add up, and pro bono work inherently completes the wholeness of a lawyer. At DuPont, community service and giving back also are very important – making a contributor not only a better lawyer but also a better person.

Editor: We understand that your involvement with community-based organizations runs deep. Please talk about your associations with the United Way, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Howard University.

Mobley: United Way is an umbrella organization that makes it easy to contribute to a number of organizations that might not have the visibility of some of the more well-known charities but are no less deserving of contributions. In Delaware, we had a pretty efficiently run United Way. The year I ran the statewide campaign, I felt that successfully reaching our goal in that statewide campaign was probably more rewarding to me than any promotion that I gained while I was at the company. I had a lot of help from many people.

DuPont had a history with the NAACP’s corporate campaign, including our former CEO Dick Heckett’s involvement. At a meeting on another matter with the then-head of the NAACP, I agreed to run the campaign, which had a very successful outcome. At DuPont Legal, we had a history of community involvement, and giving back was always very dear to us.

Howard University is my alma mater and an institution to which I owe a great deal. I went to law school there as well as the pharmacy school, and I currently serve on the board. I was this kid from Chester, Pennsylvania who didn’t know much before the education I received at Howard – the people I met, the legacy of Howard graduates and the many lessons I learned reshaped my life forever.

In setting up a scholarship, I wanted to make certain that there would be resources available for other Stacey Mobleys who do not have the funds or exposure to get a great education. With its many professional schools, Howard has been a beacon of training for African-Americans and others for a long time. The legend of law school as a transformative force is incredible in terms of lawyers who have changed society: the first African-American governor of Virginia, Doug Wilder; Vernon Jordan; Spottswood Robinson; and on and on.

Dean Kurt Schmoke is carrying on Howard's legacy in producing the next generation of lawyers. We know about the well-known lawyers, but there are other Howard lawyers whom you don’t know about, who are in their communities doing great things and representing their constituencies. The challenge is to prepare the next generation of lawyers to meet the needs of society and to represent the classic Howard way.

Editor: Could you please talk about some of the firm’s outreach initiatives, either specifically by organization or perhaps within specific communities?

Mobley: The firm has been very active with the Minority Counsel Network that DuPont sponsors and involves all the law firms that are part of the network. They create their own agenda, have annual meetings and share experiences and programs with respect to marketing, etc. In fact, one of our lawyers at Dickstein Shapiro, Charles Monterio, has been very active with the network. I’ve seen him grow in his leadership role.

MCCA is another organization with which we work that is incredible with respect to its reach and ability to leverage its resources. Both organizations give good emphasis to serving diversity. Coming through this recession, the number of minority attorneys employed nationally and locally in DC have decreased substantially. We need to devise new strategies and new tactics to reverse that tide to get back to where we were in the 2006-2007 time frame.

Editor: Any final thoughts?

Mobley: As you might imagine, I believe there is great power in diversity. A diverse organization is a more effective organization. Solutions to problems are more effective when they have been produced by a diverse team. I’ve seen it happen. DuPont Legal, where I spent so much time, is by far one of the most effective organizations, which I attribute to the power of diversity. Where diversity prevails, there is a clear difference, and people have more fun.

Please email the interviewee at mobleys@dicksteinshapiro.com with questions about this interview.