DuPont Legal: Tireless In Pursuit Of Diversity

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 15:11

The Editor interviews Silvio J. DeCarli, Associate General Counsel and Chief Litigation Counsel, DuPont Legal.

Editor: Please describe your responsibilities with respect to DuPont’s litigation worldwide.  

DeCarli: I oversee the Company’s litigation – of which we have plenty. I’m fortunate to have a skilled and dedicated team of approximately 15 lawyers and 15 paralegals who work with me full time, primarily as litigation managers. We don’t typically do first chair litigation work, but we do provide hands-on internal support to our business clients and to outside counsel.

I have a lead role in the selection and assignment of outside counsel, as litigation is still the major driver in the process. But we also look to fill our broader needs, for example, with firms that have corporate, regulatory or environmental expertise. And as our Company’s profile expands, we’re increasingly focused outside the United States, where we do significant business and have potential litigation exposure.

Editor: I note that Cravath, Swaine and Moore is one of DuPont’s firms.

DeCarli: Although Cravath was only recently added to our network of Primary Law Firms (PLFs), the firm has done high-profile work for DuPont for many years. We value their contributions and are proud to count them among our go-to firms.

Our network includes a good mix of firms. We not only include large national and international firms, but also some very effective medium and small firms that have worked with us for 20 years or more. They have done a great job for us, handling important litigation efficiently and cost effectively.

The qualities we look for in firms are really the same as those we sought when we started down the convergence path. We look for firms – and individual lawyers – that have a proven track record of delivering outstanding results and the ability to meet our changing needs, both substantively and geographically. These qualities are necessary, but not sufficient. The real key to the success we believe we’ve enjoyed through our Legal Model is a network of firms and service providers who are committed to a mutual, long-term partnering relationship – firms that embody and share our core values.  

Editor: How large a role does a firm’s practice of diversity play in selecting it as primary law firm or a primary service provider? What must it do to retain this status?  

DeCarli: Respect for people is and has always been a core value of the DuPont Company; diversity is a fundamental aspect of that core value.  So, from the inception of the DuPont Legal Model 20 years ago, diversity has played a central role. We take our commitment to a diverse workforce very seriously, both internally and externally. It’s the right thing to do, and it makes very good business sense.

Editor: My impression is that DuPont was a pioneer in demanding that the firms that represent it be dedicated to diversity.  

DeCarli: We take pride in the fact that our early and continuing commitment to diversity was not just lip service, but was coupled with the goal of real accountability for getting results that enhance diversity.  

Editor: How do you account for the fact that use of the DuPont Legal Model in selecting firms has resulted in many promising minority lawyers and women rising to the top ranks in their law firms?

DeCarli: Early on, working with our outside firms, the challenge was to identify, recruit, retain and advance the careers of minorities and women in the legal profession. That has remained our core commitment for the past 20 years. But rather than imposing quotas or mandates, we looked for ways in which DuPont and its firms – working together – could create constructive solutions.

For example, we encourage our network of law firms and service providers to designate minorities and women as our key contacts. At the beginning, only a handful of minorities and women filled these roles. Now, roughly half of their engagement partner and account manager roles are filled by minorities and women.

We also insist that women and minorities be assigned to and play an active role in our cases. We measure the results with an annual benchmark survey sent to and completed by each firm. The survey includes a number of pointed questions devoted to the firm’s progress and results on the diversity front. These surveys allow us, as appropriate, to ask firms to reevaluate or reinvigorate their diversity efforts.  

Editor: What role does diversity play in providing DuPont with effective representation?

DeCarli: In litigation the goal is to persuade your ultimate audience – a judge or a jury. But to persuade, you first have to connect. Therefore, we want our people to mirror the audience with whom we’re trying to connect. Our diversity focus goes a long way toward accomplishing that goal. And as a global company, valuing people of all races, ethnicities and genders is increasingly important to us outside the litigation context and outside the United States.  

Editor: Are some of the primary law firms located in other countries?

DeCarli: Yes. Our network includes firms in Mexico, Canada and the UK. Several of our larger firms also have offices in Asia Pacific and Europe, helping to provide a global reach.  

Editor: Tell us about  DuPont’s participation in the Street Law Program.

DeCarli: Street Law Inc. is a national organization designed to attack the challenge of diversity in the legal profession at its core. Its goal is to get more minority students at an early age interested in the law, so that more will go on to college and ultimately to law school. We’ve been working for seven years with juniors at Howard High School of Technology here in Wilmington, 85 percent of whom are African-American or Hispanic. Our Street Law program has two basic components.

The first is a legal instruction initiative in the fall, when we introduce students to various legal topics and hopefully get them interested and engaged in what the law entails and the opportunities it offers. Young Conaway, a local law firm here in Wilmington, works hand in hand with us. The instruction takes place at workshops and culminates in a one-day conference held at our offices. The day includes a “moot court lite” competition to engage the students and get them thinking about a career in law.

The second component, in the spring, is a mentoring program. DuPont lawyers and paralegals, again working with colleagues from Young Conaway, help the students prepare for college. The students are given information and one-on-one guidance they might not otherwise have available to them. They are guided in selecting appropriate target colleges, assisted with the application process and instructed about where and how to look for financial aid.

Finally, as part of our Street Law program, we provide internship opportunities here at DuPont to two students in their senior year. Having access to our professionals gives these interns a firsthand opportunity to see what legal work is all about. It is rewarding for us to see their energy and enthusiasm.  

Editor: Does the Street Law program actually work?

DeCarli: Many students in the program go on to community or four-year colleges. Some have gone on to law school. It gives us great satisfaction to see them gain confidence – to think, “I can do this.”  Their potential isn’t limited to being a legal assistant, paralegal or even a lawyer. They can become judges – perhaps even a future President. This is the thinking we hope to instill – an enthusiasm for the promise of their future.  

Editor: Are the primary law firms in other places involved in these programs?

DeCarli: Some firms are involved in similar programs, although we’re continually trying to expand Street Law’s reach. There is an annual dinner and awards ceremony sponsored by the national Street Law organization, which several of our primary law firms have attended. We are getting the word out that this program is a real difference-maker.  

What other diversity programs do your lawyers participate in?

DeCarli: We work to improve our contribution to diversity on multiple fronts. In the mid-1990s, we and our network partners jointly started the DuPont Minority Counsel Network, as well as the DuPont Women Lawyers Network. We also sponsor annual minority job fairs targeted to helping graduating law school students find work at law firms and companies. We hold these fairs in conjunction with our primary law firms at different locations across the country.

We have a supplier diversity program designed to identify minority- and women-owned law firms to which we can refer work. In addition, starting in 2006, DuPont and several companies agreed to support minority and women-owned law firms by placing with them a significant volume of work (titled the “Inclusion Initiative”). This program has been very successful, expanding to almost 20 companies with a $70 million commitment to place legal work with these firms.

In addition to these ongoing core programs, we look for other opportunities. Last year, for example, we participated in a “Diversity Summit.” Its goal was to bring together a targeted group of Chief Diversity Officers from our network firms to learn from the experiences of others, freely share what has worked and what has failed, and leverage best practices and new ideas.  

Editor: What has DuPont’s role been in promoting the Minority Corporate Counsel Association?

DeCarli: Tom Sager, our general counsel, has been a moving force on the diversity front for more than 20 years. He gave impetus to the DuPont Legal Model, with diversity as one of its core components. He has served on the executive board of MCCA since its inception, including serving as its chair for a number of years. Hinton Lucas, one of DuPont Legal’s vice presidents, is also a long-time member of the MCCA board. We have worked closely with the MCCA for many years and strongly support its mission.

Each year the MCCA confers the Thomas Sager Award. It is presented to a law firm that has demonstrated sustained commitment to advance the hiring, retention and promotion of diverse attorneys.  We are heartened to see the level of competition for this award and are very proud that it is connected with DuPont. I know that Tom is extremely humbled and very grateful to have such a prestigious award bear his name.

Editor: I also understand that DuPont and its chair and CEO Ellen Kullman received the Higgenbotham Corporate Leadership Award.  

DeCarli: Yes. The Higgenbotham Corporate Leadership Award is presented for exemplary corporate leadership in advancing diversity in the workplace and fostering economic opportunity. DuPont was honored to be this past year’s recipient, with Ellen Kullman, our chair and CEO, accepting the award.   

Editor: Given the speed with which racial barriers have been overturned, do you think the time will come when there is no need for diversity programs?

DeCarli: That is the ultimate goal, but we’re not there yet. The fact that we are doing this interview speaks not only to what has been accomplished in the past 20 years but also to how much remains to be done.  

A survey of corporate attorneys found that only 25 percent believed diversity was an important consideration when selecting outside counsel. Less than half of those attorneys had established a program to encourage diversity in their outside firms. Clearly, there is increased minority representation in the associate ranks of law firms, but in the upper tiers, I’m not so sure we’ve seen meaningful progress. For example, just over one percent of AmLaw 100 partners are African American. Change comes slowly in a traditional industry where law firm ownership is concentrated in the hands of relatively few. We can do better.

So, yes, we’ve made progress. But we have a ways to go before we can honestly say that everyone in our profession enjoys the same real and meaningful opportunity to progress and succeed.

Please email the interviewee at silvio.j.decarli@usa.dupont.com with questions about this interview.