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Coca-Cola’s incoming general counsel is a member of an exclusive club. Deval L. Patrick is one of 11 African-American general counsels at a Fortune 500 company, according to the Minority Corporate Counsel Association in Washington. In addition, Patrick will be the only African-American general counsel of any Fortune 500 company based in Atlanta. Patrick is already a member of that club as the general counsel at Texaco Inc. He joins Coke April 18. He succeeds Joseph R. Gladden Jr., who is retiring after a 25-year career with Coca-Cola. R. Scott Mitchell, director of programs for the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, says Fortune 500 companies typically want a GC to have extensive expertise in mergers and acquisitions and securities. But minority corporate lawyers typically specialize in employment litigation, says Mitchell, and fewer gain the experience needed to become GC’s. Minorities often don’t realize that employment litigation is not the best track to promotion to general counsel, Mitchell says. And corporate executives are unclear about what specific professional skills will lead to GC positions, and that “impedes diversity,” Mitchell says. Patrick fits Mitchell’s profile. Earlier in his career, he was a labor and employment partner with Boston’s Day, Berry & Howard. From 1994 to 1997, Patrick was an assistant attorney general in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He also has served as a litigation partner at Boston’s Hill & Barlow and as a staff attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. From 1997 to 1999 he served as the chairman of Texaco’s Equality and Fairness Task Force, which was set up to oversee Texaco’s fair employment policies as part of the $176 million settlement of a discrimination suit against the company. He became general counsel at Texaco in February 1999. Patrick’s experience in labor and civil rights matters will serve him well at Coke, which recently reached a preliminary $192.5 million settlement of its own race discrimination suit. A Texaco spokesman says Patrick isn’t available for comment.

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