Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
When John Charles Thomas graduated from law school in 1975 and started looking for a job in his native Virginia, he didn’t even bother to apply at Hunton & Williams. The young African American lawyer knew that the Richmond-based firm had defended the Virginia municipalities opposing desegregation in the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education. That was reason enough to cross the firm off his list. “It made me not want to come [to the firm],” Thomas says. Thomas’s job search, however, went badly. “I got turned down by all the firms I applied to,” he says. “People said things to me like, �We think we’d lose business if we hired you,’ and �We would gag if you got involved in politics while at the firm.’” He called friends at the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he had been a summer clerk, and told them he couldn’t get a job. After seeing Thomas’s transcript, he remembers, they said they’d sue. “�We’ll lock up the state in a consent decree,’” he recalls them saying. Thomas wasn’t sure what to do. He still wanted a job. He talked to Monrad G. Paulsen, then dean of his alma mater, the University of Virginia School of Law. He told Paulsen he couldn’t get a job and that the Justice Department wanted to sue. A few days later, Thomas recalls, Hunton & Williams called Thomas to set up an on-campus interview. After meeting with a few partners, Thomas was offered an associate position. He took it, becoming the first black lawyer in the 75-year history of the firm. Thomas had no idea why Hunton & Williams called him out of the blue. But later, Thomas says, he heard that Dean Paulsen called firms all over Virginia, telling them they’d better offer Thomas a job. Paulsen died in 1980, and Joseph Carter Jr., Hunton & Williams’s managing partner in 1975, was unavailable to confirm whether Paulsen had called anyone at the firm about Thomas. But W. Taylor Reveley III, the firm’s managing partner from 1982 to 1991, says that Hunton & Williams�especially younger partners such as himself�had already decided that it was time to open the door to black lawyers and was looking for candidates. Not only was Thomas the first black lawyer at Hunton & Williams, for a time he was the only black lawyer at any majority-owned firm in Virginia. His hiring-and ultimate rise to partnership in 1982 established Hunton as a pioneer in diversity among its peer firms in the South. Thomas, who exudes an air of perennial optimism, is philosophical about the ironies of his relationship with the firm. “If [Hunton & Williams] had won that case [ Brown v. Board of Education], I wouldn’t be sitting here,” Thomas says. On the other hand, he says, “I’m pleased I came.” Once he got to the firm, Thomas says, he was embraced as an equal. “I never felt abandoned or left out,” Thomas says, adding that when clients complained about having a black lawyer represent them in court�which happened more than once�they would be told, “John’s one of our lawyers, and he’s going to do a good job for you.” After a six-year stint as a justice on the Supreme Court of Virginia�nominated by one of his partners after just eight years at the firm�Thomas returned in 1989 to Hunton & Williams, where he now chairs its appellate practice. The door opens The firm’s door didn’t open just for Thomas. After his arrival, minority associates slowly began trickling in. Although most trickled back out, others stayed on to become partner. According to figures supplied by the firm in March, Hunton now has 28 minority partners, comprising 8.1 percent of its 347 partners. (In Minority Law Journal’s Diversity Scorecard, which uses figures from September 2005, 7.5 percent of Hunton’s partners were minority lawyers�a higher proportion than at all but one of the 27 other southern-based firms, excluding Florida firms.) The firm has 10 African American partners, as well as 14 Hispanic and four Asian American partners. Even more impressively, the firm has elevated several minority partners to executive positions, including Walfrido “Wally” Martinez, a Hispanic American who became managing partner in February, the first minority, and non-Richmond-based, lawyer in that position. Those developments are a remarkable testament to the adaptability of this old-line southern law firm, one of whose founding partners, Eppa Hunton, was the son of a Confederate general. Echoing Thomas’s description of how Hunton attorneys treated him 30 years before, Martinez says, “I’ve always felt that I�and all minority lawyers�had a seat at the [firm's] table.” Looking at the numbers alone, Hunton & Williams doesn’t fit the typical profile of a law firm leader in diversity. Its record is a jumble of seemingly contradictory statistics. Most firms are bottom-loaded, with more minorities in the junior associate ranks and fewer at higher levels. The total percentage of minority nonpartners at the 240 firms in the MLJ Diversity Scorecard is 15.8 percent; at the partner level, it’s 5 percent. In contrast, Hunton & Williams has average minority representation at the nonpartner level (14.3 percent) and much stronger minority numbers at the partner level (8.1 percent), with several partners of color in powerful management-level posts. Another unusual feature of the firm’s makeup is the relative dearth of Asian American lawyers: four partners and 14 nonpartners, comprising just 2.2 percent of its lawyers. A strong showing by this ethnic group has propelled many firms to the top of the chart in recent years: Seventeen of the top 21 firms on the Diversity Scorecard also rank in the top 21 for the highest percentage of Asian American lawyers. Partners at Hunton & Williams blame geography in part for the scarcity of Asian American attorneys (the firm has no offices on the West Coast, where many firms have a higher concentration of Asian American lawyers).On the flip side, what Hunton has done is actually harder: diversifying its partner ranks with more black and Hispanic lawyers than Asians. Nationally, it finishes 30th in percentage of black partners,19th in Hispanic partners. With more context, the seeming contradictions start to fall into place. Firms typically add color to their ranks through a combination of buy-in from the top and the hard work of minority lawyers committed to changing the status quo. It also doesn’t hurt if the firm has a liberal name to begin with. Hunton & Williams, in contrast, had a reputation that has probably kept minority lawyers away. Two decades ago, the firm was still largely a southeastern firm, dominated by Richmond. It has since worked hard to build a practice that is national, even global. But perceptions change slowly: “To the extent the firm is still viewed as southern, a lot of [minority law] students are not interested in going down south,” says Pauline Schneider, who heads the firm’s public finance practice in the D.C. office and is one of two African American woman partners. Until very recently, diversity at Hunton has been achieved largely through the efforts of individual lawyers in positions of power�heads of offices and practice groups, as well as the former managing partner and chairman�rather than any comprehensive, ongoing firmwide initiative. Although Hunton has two diversity committees formed in late 2003-one for partners, one for associates-it lacks a mentoring program for minorities, and only in the last four or five years has the firm really focused on recruiting minorities. Minority associates have come to the firm because of its top-tier status and stayed because a partner (or partners) took them in hand. Minority lateral partners have joined for similar reasons, or simply because it made good business sense. The result is pockets of lawyers of color scattered throughout the firm that make a relatively impressive showing when combined. Is Hunton & Williams just a statistical curiosity? Or does its experience demonstrate that there’s more than one way to achieve diversity? It may be a bit of both. “The history of diversity at Hunton & Williams in many ways reflects the contradictions inherent within the firm,” Schneider says. Although the last two decades have seen “a huge power shift” away from the Richmond office, she says, “the firm continues to struggle between its global vision and local roots.” At home in the Old Dominion Much of the history of Hunton & Williams mirrors the history of Virginia itself and, in particular, Richmond. The firm was founded there in 1901 and is an institution in the city; even the parking attendant at the airport knows the firm as “Hunton & Gruntin’,” its unofficial nickname. Richmond is the former capital of the Confederacy, steeped in southern tradition. Yet in the midst of its Civil War monuments stand two others, to Arthur Ashe, Jr., the first black tennis player to win Wimbledon, and to dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, an African American star of Broadway and Hollywood musicals. After Hunton & Williams hired Thomas, a few African American associates came and left in the early 1980s Pauline Schneider joined the Washington office as counsel in 1985 and became the firm’s second black partner in 1987. Ra�l Grable, who worked in New York, became the firm’s first Hispanic American partner in 1989; two years later, the firm made Patricia Epps, a half-Japanese lawyer in the Richmond office, its first Asian American partner and the second minority partner to come up through the ranks. In the 1980s, though, diversity was not uppermost in the minds of most law firms, and Hunton & Williams was no exception. It’s actually surprising that the firm attracted and kept as many lawyers of color as it did, given its conservative southern background. Schneider recalls thinking at the time she came to Hunton & Williams, “How ironic that I should end up at a firm on the wrong side of Brown v. Board of Education.” But the firm’s cachet, especially in Virginia, may have helped offset its conservative reputation. “Hunton & Williams has always been the place where I’ve wanted to practice law in the long term,” says former American Bar Association president Robert Grey, Jr., who joined the Richmond office as a lateral partner from Richmond-based LeClair Ryan in 2002. Grey also typifies the practical attitude of many of the firm’s more senior African American partners, who have had to deal with racism firsthand throughout their personal and professional lives. He tells the story of Hunton’s most famous alumnus, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., who had fought desegregation as the head of the Richmond School Board in the 1950s. Yet Powell also opposed extreme segregationist factions, and the civil rights lawyer Oliver Hill testified in support of his longtime Richmond colleague when Powell was nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court. “Like everything, the firm has got its good and its bad,” Grey says. The pioneering partners of color also credit white mentors who championed them. Thomas says that when he joined the firm, Thomas Ellis III-then a senior litigation associate, now a federal district court judge in Alexandria, Virginia-took Thomas under his wing, telling him about partners he needed to work for and assignments he should seek out. A. Todd Brown, the firm’s second homegrown African American partner and chairman of the diversity activities committee, names several white Raleigh partners as “progressive-minded, right-thinking folks who took an interest in me early on and throughout my career.” Even today, associates of color repeatedly talk about the importance of having a mentor at the firm. The experience of minority lawyers at Hunton & Williams “really depends on who you work with,” says African American senior associate Rudene Bascomb, an observation echoed almost verbatim by several of her peers. That’s not to suggest that the firm’s diversity efforts have always been driven solely by individual lawyers. At a certain point, firm management concluded that it needed to do more to bring about diversity. Minority lawyers give a lot of credit to Thurston Moore, managing partner from 1991 to 2006 and now firm chairman, and Gordon Rainey Jr., chairman from 1994 to 2006. Moore is a self-described “child of the 1960s.” He “is truly interested in diversity for diversity’s sake,” says Kobi Brinson, an African American associate who worked in the Charlotte, North Carolina office from 1999 to 2002, when she left for an in-house position at Wachovia Corporation. “He’s largely the reason the firm has come as far as it has.” Rainey is another person “who is interested in people of all dimensions,” Brinson says. In 1994 the firm approved the first minority retreat, attended by three partners and about 17 associates. The minority lawyers drew up a list of recommendations-in particular, instituting a mentoring program-and sent them to the executive committee, “which implemented virtually all of them,” Schneider says. “That’s when the firm first started to �get it.’ ” Hunton put in place a formal mentoring system for every associate. Moore also hired a headhunter to recruit more lateral partners of color, especially in Richmond. But Schneider says that the recruiting effort was “ a spectacular failure.” No one came to Richmond. The firm did keep up the biennial minority retreats, which Brown says draws virtually every attorney of color in the firm. According to some lawyers, the retreats are more of a party/gripe session, but Frank Emory Jr., who heads the firm’s diversity strategies committee, remembers his first one fondly. Emory, who came to the Charlotte office in 2001 as a lateral partner, says that the Friday after he joined the firm, he went to the retreat. It was “mind-blowing” to be able to take part in such an event, says Emory, who for years had been the only black lawyer at his previous firm, Charlotte’s Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson, and for a while was one of only two black partners in a majority-owned firm anywhere in North Carolina. Emory called his wife from the retreat and told her, “We made the right decision.” But after the initial push in the mid-1990s, the top-down diversity initiative lost momentum, and progress was uneven-impressive in some offices and practice groups, terrible in others. Why the disparity? Two factors appear to be at play. First, the partners, both white and minority, who head the more heterogeneous groups have made diversity a priority. Second, these groups have more diverse clients, or clients who consider diversity important. For instance, of the four partners in Schneider’s project finance practice group, three are African American, and three are women. Schneider, who was the first African American woman to head the D.C. bar, says that she has always placed an emphasis on having a diverse practice group-and it helps that her government clients want to see that, too. Yet she says she worries about the rest of the D.C. office, which can count just three minority lawyers among 67 partners, none of whom holds a management position. “It’s not even,” Schneider says, adding, “I have not been at all pleased with our success here.” Three other offices that have done better are Charlotte, Atlanta, and Miami. The Charlotte office has benefited from the presence of Emory, head of the firm’s litigation group, and Brown, who moved from Raleigh in 1995 to build the Charlotte labor and employment practice. At the time, Brown-who now heads the diversity activities committee-sat on the firm’s powerful executive committee. Former Charlotte associate Brinson says that when she joined from the public defender’s office, six of the office’s 19 lawyers were minorities. Brinson gives the credit for Charlotte’s diversity to Brown, “who brought me in, groomed me, and gave me access to the entire firm,” as well as Charlotte’s white managing partner, T. Thomas Cottingham III. Cottingham, who joined as a lateral partner in 1998, says he recognizes that creating a diverse workforce “takes focus and concentration and effort. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen.” The Atlanta office also stands out for its relative diversity, although its minority numbers have dropped since 2002. That’s when Kevin Ross, an African American who was the office’s managing partner from 1994 to 1999, left to start his own business. “When Kevin was there, it really made a difference,” says Schneider. By far the biggest diversity success story at Hunton & Williams is Miami. The office, which opened in 1999 with four lawyers from Holland & Knight, has grown to 75 lawyers today, largely by cherry-picking lateral partners. It is by all accounts a rainmaking powerhouse, with a thriving Latin American practice buttressed by U.S. corporate clients. Nine of the firm’s 14 Hispanic partners and 13 of its 26 Hispanic associates hail from the Miami office. (The office has no African American partners.) Admittedly, Miami-based law firms historically have led the nation in diversity. But the office has also produced the firm’s first minority-and non-Richmond-managing partner, Wally Martinez, who rejoined Hunton & Williams in February in that position after spending two years as general counsel at Norwalk, Connecticut-based Diageo North America. Other offices, notably Richmond, have had a tougher time diversifying. Richmond-still the largest of Hunton’s offices, with 25 percent of the firm’s lawyers-has yet to elevate another “homegrown” African American to partner since Thomas in 1982. Schneider and others note that unlike Miami, Charlotte, and Atlanta, Richmond has lacked a strong client push to diversify. Jennifer McClellan, an African American associate in the Richmond office from 1997 to 2002, says the office also struggles just to bring young minority lawyers in the door: The relative lack of social life in Richmond makes it “hard to be a single minority in this city,” says McClellan, who left for an in-house position in the Richmond office of Verizon Communications Inc. Firmwide, associates of color need both a book of business and a powerful patron to make partner, says former associate Jennifer Borum Bechet, who is African American. Another former black associate, Wendell Taylor, who is set to rejoin the firm as a partner on May 1 after two years at theJustice Department, disagrees: “If you work for a partner with a lot of business, you can make partner with or without business of your own.” Hunton & Williams also has curiously few Asian American lawyers, who now account for 5.2 percent of all lawyers in firms in the Diversity Scorecard. Only four Hunton & Williams partners and 14 nonpartners-2.2 percent of the firm’s 814 lawyers-are Asian American. Partners at Hunton & Williams blame its lack of West Coast offices in part. But with more than 200 Hunton lawyers in New York and D.C., that rationale is unconvincing. A study by New York City’s bar association found that Asian Americans comprised 12 percent of associates and 2 percent of partners at New York firms in 2004. Of its 84 New York lawyers, Hunton & Williams currently has just one Asian American associate. Henry Su, an Asian American lawyer who worked in Richmond from 1996 to 2001, says that after noticing African American associates being mentored, he asked diversity activities chairman Brown about getting a mentor of his own. “I never got an answer,” says Su, now a partner at Howrey in Palo Alto. Brown responds that the firm doesn’t have a separate mentoring program geared solely to minority associates. After moving to a law firm on the West Coast, Su adds, “I immediately had Asian American mentors who took a strong interest in my success. It was something I never felt in Richmond.” According to Epps, the firm has not targeted the recruitment and retention of Asian American lawyers in particular, nor does it have plans to do so. “The idea is to bring in as many different types as possible,” she says. Still, Epps says that two years ago, she suggested that the firm should target and recruit more Asian Americans, especially in D.C. and New York. But recruiting Asian Americans has been difficult, she says, because the New York office hasn’t been hiring, and the D.C. office’s recruiting has focused on certain specialized practice groups. New initiatives In fall 2003, at Moore’s prompting, the firm embarked on a diversity initiative aimed at recruitment, retention and rainmaking. On the recruiting front, Hunton began participating in minority job fairs and contacting professors and minority organizations to identify recruits. Since then, its headcount of minority first-year associates has jumped from 13 in 2003 to 23 in 2005. In the upcoming recruiting season, it also plans to cast a wider net to include schools it hasn’t traditionally visited. (At press time the firm had not yet decided which additional schools to visit.) On the retention and rainmaking front, the firm established the diversity strategies committee to focus on partner-level issues, and the diversity activities committee to focus on associates, staff and recruits. Hunton & Williams also is requiring each practice group to address diversity in its practice development and management plans, and two years ago held a partnerwide program at which minority and women in-house counsel from six firms spoke about diversity. Moore says that though he’s encouraged, it’s still too early for results: “I’m proud, but not as proud as I want to be in a few years.” The shot that’s being heard across the firm, though, is the February appointment of Wally Martinez, 39, as managing partner. Before leaving for Diageo in 2004, Martinez established himself as a major rainmaker and served on the executive committee and as an informal leader of the firm’s litigation practice. During the succession process, Moore says, he made no secret of the fact that he thought Martinez should be the next managing partner. Moore adds that although Martinez’s ethnicity wasn’t a huge factor in the decision, “it’s a delightful thing to have happened.” Martinez, who was actively involved in diversity initiatives at Diageo and during his first stint at Hunton, “speaks with a tone of empathy and personal experience that I will never be able to have,” Moore says. On a broader scale, Martinez symbolizes the firm’s shift from a conservative, Richmond-based regional firm to a global presence. It’s too soon to tell what impact Martinez’s appointment will have on the firm, but within weeks of his new appointment he had already planned a meeting with the chairs of the diversity strategies, diversity activities, and recruiting and associate evaluation committees to coordinate the firm’s efforts on the diversity front. Martinez says he wants to make sure the firm doesn’t lose its sense of urgency around diversity just because it now has a minority managing partner: “That weighs heavily on my mind,” he says. Still, lawyers of color view Martinez’s appointment as a huge step in building on the progress that the firm has already made. “There are some Richmond partners rolling in their graves right now,” former associate Brinson says, “and they’re not even dead yet.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.