Deborah Martin Owens. Courtesy photo.

Arriving from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Deborah Martin Owens has joined the New York City Bar Association to spearhead its diversity and inclusion efforts.

Owens, in her new role as executive director of diversity and inclusion, will lead the city bar’s efforts in tracking the progress of more than 140 participating law firms and law departments on key diversity representation metrics. The findings are published in the city bar’s Diversity Benchmarking Report, next scheduled for release in 2019.

The city bar’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion also runs a pipeline initiative that supports high school, college and law students in developing professional skills and gaining exposure to the legal profession.

Owens, 46, has spent nearly the past dozen years as a staff attorney at Quinn Emanuel in New York focusing on commercial litigation.

She currently serves as vice chair of the board for the Women’s City Club of New York and as a board member of the Friends of Island Academy, a nonprofit supporting incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth. Owens has also held leadership roles for several other bar groups, including the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association and the National Bar Association.

Owens said she believed her new role at the city bar was a “culmination of all the hard work I’ve done” in bar associations and nonprofit organizations.

“Quinn Emanuel was a great place for me, they encouraged me and supported me,” said Owens, adding that she felt inspired to take a new job because “it was time for me to move forward in the passions I had outside a law firm, which are working with bar associations and diverse attorneys.”

The city bar role was the opportunity to “do some impactful work here, which is bringing awareness of the need to have a diverse legal profession,” Owens said. “[Law firms] are doing better than they have in the past, but there’s more to be done.”

Owens noted that she is looking forward to working with firms to increase their diversity efforts and identify talent they may miss. For example, Owens said, “many law firms look at the top 25 law schools, but there’s amazing talent in the 26th law school.”

Among her goals at the city bar are engaging more legal departments of corporations and attorneys employed with the city government. Owens succeeds Gabrielle Lyse Brown, now an executive director for diversity and inclusion at Morgan Stanley & Co., according to her career profile on professional networking website LinkedIn.

Diversity Moves Within Firms

Owens’ new role at the city bar comes amid a flurry of law firms hiring their own diversity leaders. As corporate clients become more demanding of their outside counsel to increase diversity representation on client teams, law firms are increasingly hiring or naming diversity professionals to oversee that effort. Those law firm professionals then work with bar groups such as the city bar and others that measure diversity representation in law firms.

For instance, earlier this month, A. Faith English joined Lowenstein Sandler as manager of diversity and inclusion. English arrived from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, where she worked to advance diversity initiatives at the Indianapolis-based nonprofit.

“Faith is joining us at a time when we are seeing dramatic growth in formal and informal programs aimed at increasing the diversity of our workforce and building on our culture of inclusion,” said Lowenstein Sandler chairman Gary Wingens in a statement.

Also this month, Locke Lord named Paulette Brown, a senior partner based in Princeton, New Jersey, to be its first chief diversity and inclusion officer. Brown is also a past president of the American Bar Association.

Last month Fisher & Phillips named its first chief diversity officer in Regina Petty, a partner based in Los Angeles and San Diego. And Bernard Guinyard became director of diversity and inclusion at Goodwin Procter earlier this year after he spent a few years consulting with various corporations and previously led Ropes & Gray’s diversity initiatives.