National labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips announced Friday that it has named Southern California-based partner Regina Petty as its first chief diversity officer. In the role, Petty is charged with heading up the Atlanta-based firm’s efforts to create and maintain a diverse and inclusive work environment.
“It’s not like [diversity and inclusion] is a new subject for us,” said firm chair and managing partner Roger Quillen in a joint phone interview with Petty on Friday afternoon. Quillen noted that, as one of the nation’s largest labor and employment firms, Fisher Phillips is regularly called on to advise clients on “D-and-I” issues. “Because our brand is to be experts in this area, it’s important to us, in part, because we want to be a law firm that has a reputation that practices what we preach.”
Petty, who was a name partner in women-owned business litigation firm Wilson Petty Kosmo & Turner prior to joining Fisher Phillips in 2009, plans to spend about 50 percent of her time maintaining her labor and employment trial practice while she takes on the new role. The firm has had a diversity committee for about 10 years and a women’s committee for about half as long, but Quillen said the firm decided that it needed someone who could sit side by side with the chair and focus on “building a community that makes people feel welcome, happy and safe.”
“She has the license to sit very close to me and speak the truth to me as needed,” Quillen said.
Fisher Phillips, which has about 350 lawyers nationwide, placed 116th out of 227 firms on The American Lawyer’s most recent Diversity Scorecard, an annual list that ranks law firms by their percentage of minority attorneys and partners in the U.S. According to Minority Scorecard data, 16.3 percent of all attorneys at the firm were minorities, including 7.4 percent of all partners and 7 percent of equity partners.
“We don’t think that being 116th is good enough,” Petty said. But she added that her efforts won’t focus on just attorneys. “We need to make sure our professional, nonattorney staff feels happy about working on our team, because all of that translates to being better legal service providers.”
Petty’s move comes after the firm was in the news for a long stretch this spring as former partner Claud “Tex” McIver was convicted of felony murder at trial in the shooting death of his wife. The case inspired national and international headlines, thanks in part to a McIver spokesman’s claim that the lawyer kept a gun in the console of the couple’s Ford Expedition because of fear of Black Lives Matter protesters in downtown Atlanta.
“We were not indifferent to the possibility that it could be perceived that the position that was taken on Mr. Mciver’s behalf was somehow reflective of our values,” Petty said.
But both she and Petty said they never heard from clients or other members of the legal community who made that association.
“I never heard anyone try to hang that on our law firm,” Quillen said. “I was fully prepared to step out on behalf of the firm and address that subject. I was standing ready to do so, and it was never presented to me as an issue.”
Petty, who holds undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford, splits her time between the firm’s San Diego and Los Angeles offices. She is a former member of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s board of directors and was the first African-American president of the San Diego County Bar Association. Beginning in 1989, she was a member of the formation and advisory committees for the American Bar Association’s Conference of Minority Partners in Majority/Corporate Law Firms. She also served as co-chairperson of the ABA Litigation Section’s Task Force on Bias in the Courts.