Winners Announced for Chambers D&I Awards: North America 2020

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Kirkland and Ellis LLP logo
30 Sep 2020

Last Thursday, 24th September 2020, we were delighted to host the Chambers Diversity and Inclusion Awards: North America 2020. This year’s awards were in association with Kirkland and Ellis, and sponsored by Alexander Dubose Jefferson, Greenberg Traurig, Mintz, Munck Wilson Mandala, Robins Kaplan and Wilkinson Walsh.

Nolan Highbaugh, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, Kipp Foundation

Winning a Chambers D&I Award sets an impressive precedent, and marks a globally-recognised achievement of excellence in furthering the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. By raising awareness and empowering the people committed to positive action, together we can start a new chapter with equal opportunities for everyone.

This year has been deeply challenging for us all. There has been a massive upheaval in the way we go about our daily lives while previously existing inequalities have come into a sharper focus. COVID-19 has impacted the world and highlighted the fragility of many of the systems we rely on. Simultaneously, Black Lives Matter, which began back in 2013, has gathered momentum and become a truly global movement. Rather than this being a perfect storm that may hinder the advancement of diversity and inclusion, we hope that firms and in-house legal teams can work with Chambers and Partners to ensure that D&I remains an utmost priority to the profession during these times.

The ceremony began with an introduction from Chambers and Partners D&I Director, Dee Sekar, followed by a speech from our CEO, Tim Noble, who took the opportunity to outline Chambers’ commitment to diversity and inclusion and congratulate all the firms, individuals and in-house legal teams shortlisted for the awards. Next, Ellisen Turner, a partner at Kirkland and Ellis, gave his opening remarks before the official ceremony began.

While this years’ ceremony was virtual, we were delighted to be able to share speeches and performances from numerous contributors. That included a keynote speech from Nolan Highbaugh, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at the Kipp Foundation. We also heard a rousing message from the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Joel Stern, CEO of NAMWOLF, and received a message from our charity partner, Media Defence, outlining the invaluable work that they do to ensure freedom of expression and protect journalists across the globe. This was followed by a show-stopping performance from the Gay Man’s Chorus Los Angeles. You can watch the whole event, including all of the guest speakers and contributors, by clicking register on the event page, here.

Below, you will find blurbs for all of this year’s winners.

USA

Lifetime Achievement Award:

Joel Stern, CEO of NAMWOLF

Joel Stern – NAMWOLF

Since March 2014, Joel Stern has been the CEO of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, Inc. (NAMWOLF). NAMWOLF, founded in 2001, is a non-profit trade association comprised of over 195 minority and women owned law firms in 42 states. NAMWOLF’S mission is to provide corporations the premier place to go to locate and hire minority and women owned law firms of the very highest caliber.

Prior to his role as CEO with NAMWOLF, Joel headed his own consulting practice, providing a range of services to corporate law departments and law firms. While working at Accenture, he was tasked with leading a team of attorneys to create a ‘best in class’ diversity and inclusion legal program, which he remains very proud of.

Private Practice – Individual

Future Leader: Diversity & Inclusion:

Teri H. Peeples – Sidley Austin LLP

Sidley Austin’s Teri Peeples is mentor to many women of color and piloted the firm’s Women of Colour initiative, facilitating networking between associates, counsel & partners, as well as promoting mentoring and relationship building. This program saw a drop in the attrition rate of women of color from 35% to 20% in 2019, which was the lowest attrition rate of all demographics.

Diversity & Inclusion Lawyer of the Year:

Yendelela Holston – Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton

Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer and Labor & Employment Partner, Yendelela Holston is a leader who lifts as she climbs. After building the AT&T Legal Scholars Program from scratch, Yendelela joined Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, Yendelela where she actively mentors and coaches law students, associates and young lawyers outside the firm. Further, Yendelela gathers and reviews metrics and data to help ensure that the Firm’s diversity and inclusion strategy permeates all practices and policies, and she regularly reports to the Management Committee on progress and on areas of concern.

Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year:

George E. “Buddy” Schulz Jr – Holland & Knight

George E. “Buddy” Schulz Jr has an incredible pro bono record at Holland & Knight. His leadership in pro bono cases has helped to raise that commitment to a level that turned Holland & Knight into a powerful force for social justice. Particular highlights include helping to free a man who had wrongfully served 42 years in prison and encouraging veterans in the firm to form their own pro bono initiative with local chairs in each office. In 2019, Holland & Knight’s Veterans Group invested 5,865 hours valued at more than $3.6 million in representing veterans in 112 matters.

Outstanding Ally award:

Robert I. Bodian – Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.

Robert has brought an innovative approach to management at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. One such innovation has been the design and implementation of a new system for sharing origination credit, which has had the intended impact of providing more opportunities for minority and women lawyers to share in the economic results of their efforts to help grow client relationships. His origination credit system, in addition to his commitment to mentoring and recruiting, has propelled many diverse and women lawyers to leadership positions and other successes, and encourages a firm-wide culture of collaboration. This is unique, impactful and directly tied to the advancement of diverse attorneys as the firm gives billing hours credit to associates for doing work to increase diversity. Similarly, fi the firm’s senior lawyers spend time sponsoring a diverse lawyer, they get billable time for it.

Outstanding Contribution to Furthering the Advancement of Diversity in the Legal Profession:

Joan Haratani – Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

It is in a one-on-one context where the tangible impact of Joan’s advice, mentorship, and the power of her persuasive personality is most visible. She has assisted scores of lawyers both with the firms where she has worked and in the wider business community. Her dedication to lifting up other women and diverse lawyers has helped numerous lawyers to advance spectacularly and achieve much in their own careers.

Private Practice – Firm

Pro Bono Program of the Year:

Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP

Working on a range of pro bono cases helping diverse communities the firm has been involved in supporting transgender rights, faith, gender, ethnicity and social mobility. The firm provided pro bono assistance on the recent notable case: Trump v. East Bay (SCOTUS). Willkie, in an amicus brief on behalf of immigration groups backed by former top-level Republican DoJ officials, successfully helped urge the Supreme Court to reject a government request to reinstate President Trump’s ban prohibiting immigrants illegally crossing the southern border from seeking asylum.

Inclusive Firm of the Year:

Bookoff McAndrews

Bookoff McAndrews has benefitted immensely from recruiting and nurturing individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. As of the date of submission, nearly 60 percent of BoMc’s attorneys – including 75 percent of the partnership – and over 90 percent of its staff hail from diverse backgrounds. The firm always aims to engage our entire diverse body with inclusive activities and opportunities to contribute and have their voice heard. In 2019/20, they implemented a Special Projects initiative that allows our staff to work with a sponsoring manager to plan and implement any program that would benefit the firm. Some recent successes have included a revamp of our internal docketing and patent systems, a Spirit Week, and a robust Health & Wellness Program.

Most Innovative Program for Employee Health and Well-being:

Ropes & Gray LLP

In 2020, the firm introduced MyQHealth by Quantum Health to its U.S. medical plans, a concierge service that acts as a primary point of contact and one-stop shop for all medical-related questions and concerns, including finding in-network doctors, replacing lost ID cards, handling claims and billing issues, and getting pre-certifications. In introducing an intermediary between the user, insurance company and health care providers, Ropes & Gray has revolutionized the provision of health care in the legal industry by lowering the time and psychological costs of navigating medical care.

Veterans Program of the Year:

Holland & Knight

Holland & Knight’s Veterans Group is unusual not just for the scope of its commitment to veterans, active duty military and their families but even more so because it is a grassroots effort of the firm’s attorneys in each of its 25 United States offices. Holland & Knight’s attorneys have partnered with the American Bar Association and other groups, started organizations that serve veterans and taken on individual matters for veterans that have required thousands of hours of investment. As a result of these efforts, veterans find a welcoming environment at Holland & Knight, and the firm is increasingly identified by veterans as a good place to work. They hired eight attorney-veterans in 2019. Attorneys who earned their law degrees before embarking on a military career don’t always have legal experience that applies to civilian law, and we help these attorneys transition to the civilian law firm world.

Outstanding Firm for Furthering Diversity and Inclusion:

Rivero Mestre

Rivero Mestre is a minority-owned law firm in which 70 percent of lawyers – and 91 percent of staff – are members of minorities, while half their lawyers are women. For the last two years, the firm has sponsored Nathalie Prieto, a young woman who is a law student at Florida International University Law School. Natalie is one of approximately 700,000 ‘DREAMers’ – young people who arrived in the USA as the children of undocumented immigrants. Further, For several years Rivero Mestre lawyers served as the Miami City Lead for LCLD’s Success in Law School Mentoring Program, recruiting mentors and mentees from law schools and law firms in South Florida and helping LCLD staff with the logistics of the program.

In-House – Individual

Future Leader – D&I:

Akshay Verma, Legal Operations, Outside Counsel Management, Facebook, Inc.

Akshay spearheads Facebook’s efforts to monitor and promote diversity among its outside law firms. Facebook requires that its outside law firms annually report on the demographics of the Firm’s lawyers, leadership, and team providing services to Facebook. Akshay oversees the data collection and analysis as well as the communication with outside firms. He also invests time in developing the pipeline of lawyers for the next generation through leading the newly created Facebook Legal Scholars program and also teaches at Santa Clara Law School.

D&I Lawyer of the Year:

John Mbiti, Director and Counsel, AM US Credit & Liquid Transact & LatAm, Credit Suisse Asset Management

In November 2015, John established a partnership between financial institutions and law firms in which in-house lawyers at financial institutions mentor diverse associates at law firms to help associates develop business relationships. Lawyers for Empowerment and the Advancement of Diversity (LEAD) launched in November 2015 with 100 participants (50 mentors and 50 mentees). Since then, LEAD has grown to 150 participants (75 mentors and 75 mentees).

Corporate Social Responsibility Lawyer of the Year:

David DePippo, Senior Counsel, Dominion Energy

Dominion Energy Senior Counsel David DePippo, with the support of external counsel, won a landmark multibillion-dollar case expanding education opportunities for millions of veterans and their families. The victory delivers millions of dollars of benefits for post-9/11 era veterans attempting to access GI Bill benefits.

Outstanding Contribution:

Phuong Phillips, Chief Legal Officer, Zynga Inc.

In addition to being the Chief Legal Officer, Phuong is also the executive sponsor of Women at Zynga (WAZ), an important employee-led initiative whose mission is to strengthen connections and collaboration among the women in the company and the broader gaming community. WAZ offers professional development and community building training, including a 16-week executive coaching program for women who are just at the cusp of their careers.

Outstanding Ally Award:

Michael Schwartz, Vice President, Patent Litigation, TiVo Corporation

Michael understands that ‘it just takes time’ is no longer an acceptable answer to the question of why female and other diverse attorneys are not adequately represented on trial teams and as first chairs. Mike uses his litigation budget to force the change needed and demands diversity and inclusion from his external counsel at all times.

In-House – Company

Outstanding Company for Diversity and Inclusion:

Novartis AG

When Novartis AG announced its significant diversity-related staffing requirements for its 2020 preferred panel of law firms, it was a call for inclusion in law that reverberated across the industry. Building on the company’s already impressive efforts to advance the goal of creating a more diverse legal profession worldwide, Novartis’ new diversity and inclusion mandate for its panel of preferred law firms is a fresh catalyst for meaningful change and has influenced a number of other corporate legal teams to follow suit.

Canada

Firm Award

Outstanding Firm for Furthering Diversity and Inclusion:

Bereskin & Parr

At Bereskin and Parr, 43% of the firm’s professionals are women and the associate group is 52% female. Women also comprise more than 30% of the partner group, at both the equity and non-equity levels. 29.51% of Bereskin & Parr’s professionals and employees are from an ethnic minority background, 3.74% identify as LGBT+ and 2.26% have a disability. Many of their partners, as well as 35% of associates, identify as visible minorities.

In-House – Individual

Outstanding Contribution to Furthering the Advancement of Diversity in the Legal Profession:

Julia Shin Doi, General Counsel and Secretary of the Board of Governors and University Privacy Officer, Ryerson University

Of Korean background herself, Julia’s vision was to create a pro bono clinic that would advocate for and serve Koreans in their native language, helping them navigate the complex Canadian legal system and achieve justice. Julia led the development of the pro bono clinic, which provides free legal advice to Koreans in Toronto who earn less than $60K a year.

In-House – Company

Outstanding Company for Diversity and Inclusion:

RioCan REIT

In 2019, RioCan launched an initiative developed by the Law Department that resulted in every bonus-eligible employee being evaluated using an individual performance-based scorecard, in which an ESG (environmental, social, governance) objective must be included. As a result of this undertaking, a majority of RioCan employees are now compensated based on their abilities to achieve initiatives often specifically tied to enhanced diversity and inclusion. Currently, 41% of RioCan’s management is female, and their Board of Trustees is comprised of 33% women as well.;