Like many of my fellow African-American partners at Am Law 250 firms, I was moved by the insightful observations from Don Prophete in last month’s Corporate Counsel magazine. My own experience demonstrates that the combination of a conscious decision by a GC and a meaningful commitment by a law firm to give real opportunities to diverse attorneys can change the trajectory of a person’s career. I experienced this myself.
In January of 1999, I was elected equity partner at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, an Am Law 250 firm with offices in Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, and additional offices in Washington, D.C., Houston and Pittsburgh. In 2001, a significant class action was filed in Cincinnati against Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE). The law firm Miller and Martin, with offices in Tennessee and Georgia, had long represented CCE. The CCE relationship lawyer was Miller and Martin partner Shelby Grubbs. John Parker, then the general counsel of CCE, told Grubbs that he wanted to interview the best trial lawyers in Cincinnati to handle the class action that had been filed there. Parker added that he “expected that several of the lawyers to be interviewed would be black.” I flew to Atlanta to meet with Parker and other in-house lawyers at CCE and a number of the Miller and Martin lawyers who had historically served as outside counsel to CCE. After this interview process, Parker, with input and an endorsement from Grubbs, selected me to serve as lead counsel in the Cincinnati class action. I was 37 years old. After years of multiple arguments in the court of appeals, the case was ultimately tried to a jury in 2008. I was lead counsel for CCE during this nine-week jury trial. I also continued to represent CCE in other matters for the better part of a decade.
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