Diversity - Law Firms Promoting Diversity Is Key To A High-Profile, Quality Legal Practice

Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - 01:00
Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP
Joshua W. Martin III
Kathleen Furey McDonough

Editor: You enjoy a stellar career, Mr. Martin. Please tell us about your practice.

Martin: Building on my experience as a business leader, practicing attorney, judge and state agency official, I will be concentrating my practice on mediation, arbitration and business counseling, particularly in the areas of telecommunications, public utilities and government relations.

Editor: What experiences do you bring to your practice?

Martin: I am about to complete my service as the CEO and President of Verizon Delaware in just a few weeks. I also served as a Delaware Superior Court Judge for eight years, where I initiated the court's mandatory non-binding arbitration system. I heard both criminal and civil cases, including a number of trials involving fairly complex matters. Examples include multi-party construction disputes and insurance coverage litigation. Before my years on the bench, I served on the Delaware Public Service Commission from 1978 to 1982, including three years as Chairman. I began my career as a physicist at the DuPont Company in 1966 and then after getting my law degree, I was a patent attorney with Hercules, Inc. for eight years.

Editor: Please tell our readers about the significant roles you've played in professional, community and public service.

Martin: I serve on the boards of PNC Bank of Delaware; Nuclear Electric Insurance Ltd. (NEIL); Southwest Power Pool, Inc. and the Delaware Business Roundtable. I also serve as a trustee for Winterthur Museum; Co-Chair of Delaware State Bar Association Judicial Compensation Committee; trustee and director of Christiana Care Corporation; and Fellow for the American Bar Foundation.

I am particularly proud of my efforts in a number of communities across this country to promote quality education for all students. I currently serve as a trustee of Case Western Reserve University and am a life trustee of Goldey Beacom College. I have also been a board member at a vocational technical high school district here in Delaware and at a K-12 private school here in Wilmington.

My activities in the business community have been directed toward supporting efforts to make our school systems, including administrators and teachers, accountable for the education of our kids. Also, where technology can be used to improve education, I have encouraged and supported the efforts of Verizon to fund innovative and creative programs that support literacy and other educational endeavors.

Editor: How did you come to practice at Potter Anderson?

Martin: I was looking for a law firm with a high-profile, quality practice that was committed to diversity and inclusion of lawyers of color. Potter Anderson enjoys a wonderful reputation due to its dynamic commercial and corporate practice, and I am looking forward to offering the skills that I have gained in a business environment to the firm's clients, both regionally and nationally. Also, I felt that I could be comfortable in providing leadership as we advance the firm's goals in the area of diversity. I share the firm's strong commitment to hiring and retaining a diverse work force, and I look forward to assisting in making Potter Anderson the law firm of choice in the region.

Editor: Few firms have enjoyed a 179-year history like Potter Anderson. What has contributed to the firm's longevity and success?

McDonough: While extraordinarily proud of our history, we never, ever rest on our laurels. Building and nurturing client relationships requires excellent lawyering, creativity, flexibility and staying on the leading edge of legal and corporate developments. These strengths brought us to where we are today, and they are the keys to our future.

We have represented many of our clients for 20, 30 and even 50 years or more.We are proud of these long relationships, but equally proud that every week we are hired by clients new to the firm.

I can't leave the discussion of the keys to our success without emphasizing that our people are our greatest strength. All credit for our firm's longevity and success belongs to them. We have the best and brightest lawyers anywhere. Just as important, everyone here is the kind of person you like to be around.

Editor: What is the foundation of your firm's commitment to diversity?

McDonough: We enhance the strength of our firm by making sure that the individuals we hire and retain are from diverse backgrounds. They bring a wealth of life experiences and different perspectives that are available only if they are diverse in every way - whether you look at race, ethnic background, religion, gender or any other aspect.

Editor: Please describe a few of your current diversity initiatives.

Martin: We have created a Diversity Committee that I will chair. We plan to enhance diversity in the legal profession by not only hiring and retaining diverse candidates within our firm but also taking a leadership role in Delaware and across the region.

We will continue our past tradition of organizing and hosting receptions for minority students at regional law schools to give them an opportunity to learn more about Potter Anderson and the Delaware legal market in general. The firm has actively participated in the Delaware Minority Job Fairs for first and second year law students since their inception in the early 90's and is the host of one of the minority job fairs to which DuPont invites Potter Anderson and 37 other firms nationwide.

The firm played a key role in establishing the Delaware Minority Supplemental Bar Review Course, now run by the Multicultural Judges and Lawyers Section of the Delaware State Bar Association, and was a leader in the operation of the Redding Fellows Program aimed at the recruitment of first year minority law students to Delaware.

I look forward to having the committee review our current and past diversity practices with the view of looking for additional approaches, as appropriate.

Editor: Does the firm's commitment to diversity dovetail with DuPont and your other clients' interest in diversity?

McDonough: Over the years as we've taken specific steps to ensure diversity in the legal profession, our clients have been with us hand-in-hand. We share a common vision of the importance to their organization and ours of being as diverse as we can be.

DuPont has been a leader in this area. It's hard to think of any organization that has shined a light on this issue more than DuPont has. They have served as a leader, mentor and an example for legal departments and law firms alike.

Editor: What type of work does Potter Anderson do as a DuPont primary law firm (PLF)?

McDonough: We are DuPont's primary law firm in Delaware for all commercial, corporate, employment and litigation matters. We do a large amount of patent prosecution and other intellectual property work for DuPont. We have lawyers who have helped DuPont with special projects related to technology and e-commerce issues. We also provide strong support to DuPont in transactional, mergers and acquisition, and other work.

Editor: What are some of the benefits of being a DuPont PLF?

McDonough: DuPont is a wonderful organization. We value our relationship with DuPont very highly. All of us enjoy working together on the substantive side of the cases. As well as encompassing a wide breadth of issues, it's challenging, sophisticated legal work. From a professional and transaction perspective, it's been a tremendous collaboration. From a personal perspective, there are a lot of great people at DuPont - both inside the Legal Department and in the Company.

As part of the PLF program for over 10 years, we've had the opportunity to meet folks from firms all over the country and develop relationships with them. The networking opportunities hosted by DuPont include its annual meeting that brings all the PLF lawyers to Wilmington. DuPontalso hosts a women's conference every other year or so that brings women lawyers from DuPont's in-house staff and law firms from around the country to Wilmington to work on issues that are unique to women as lawyers. DuPont also hosts minority counsel conferences where we learn from the different perspectives of diverse participants.

One of the great benefits of being a PLF is that the relationship does not end with DuPont. We have established significant relationships with law firms from all around the country, many of which we would not have had but for our involvement with DuPont.

Editor: How can in-house lawyers promote diversity in the law firms they hire?

Martin: Diversity is just as important to in-house lawyers as it is to Potter Anderson.More and more companies are making it a priority. In-house lawyers can demand that firms doing their work staff matters with lawyers of color who are actively involved. Law firms should be reviewed periodically and held to a very high standard. Also job fairs and other initiatives that attract a broad cross section of applicants can be supported to ensure that a larger and more diverse applicant pool will be available for the firms' hiring needs. Another approach is to tie the compensation of senior in-house lawyers to formal diversity objectives, requiring them to review annually how the firms they hire have responded to hiring and retention goals of women and lawyers of color.

McDonough: I'd like to give an anecdotal example. Recently, our firm was retained by a very large, national financial institution. When I was interviewed by its in-house counsel for a relatively small employment matter, she asked about my background and the firm's experience in defending employers in employment litigation. Then she asked very specifically about our firm's diversity initiatives. She was as interested in hearing about our commitment to diversity is as she was in hearing about how good we are as lawyers. I'm happy to say that they hired us, and we got a terrific outcome for them.

That's clearly one of the ways that in-house lawyers can promote diversity - by letting law firms know that diversity is an important factor in determining who is going to work on the company's cases.

Please email the interviewees at jmartin@potteranderson.com and kmcdonough@potteranderson.comwith questions about this interview.