Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld has hired its first chief officer for diversity and inclusion, bringing on former Prudential Financial Inc. vice president and chief diversity officer Michele Meyer-Shipp.
Meyer-Shipp, a longtime corporate diversity advocate, comes to Akin Gump after roughly seven years at Prudential, where she started as a vice president and in-house employment counsel, and in 2012 became the finance company’s chief diversity officer. During her time at Prudential, the company was recognized multiple times as a standout for diversity efforts.
Meyer-Shipp has been recognized for guiding Prudential’s diversity programs. Among other awards, she was selected as a “diverse attorney of the year” in 2015 by the New Jersey Law Journal, which applauded her for viewing Prudential’s diversity and inclusion efforts as a “personal mission,” rather than a one-and-done initiative.
In a statement on Tuesday, Meyer-Shipp said she’s looking forward to continuing that mission at Akin Gump, which in her view, “has a well-established record” in the areas of diversity and inclusion. At the firm, she’ll be tasked with leading diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout the firm, including in its policies and work.
“I’m thrilled with the opportunity to join the firm and expand on efforts to ensure that Akin Gump remains a destination for a diverse workforce, a firm that recruits and retains talented lawyers and staff of all backgrounds, and a place where all have the opportunity to excel,” she said.
Akin Gump is already among a relatively small number of large law firms with women leaders. The firm ranked 60th in the latest version of The American Lawyer’s diversity scorecard, which reported that minorities make up some 16 percent of the firm’s nearly 700 lawyers, while 12 percent of partners are minorities.
In a statement on Tuesday announcing Meyer-Shipp’s hire, Akin Gump chairwoman Kim Koopersmith said the firm has placed an emphasis on diversity since its founding more than 70 years ago. But, Koopersmith added, there’s more to be done.
“While I am proud of how far we have come as a firm and an industry in fostering a more diverse environment, much work remains,” said Koopersmith. “Michele brings a stellar track record of accomplishment in the corporate environment, and I look forward to the leadership and guidance she will provide in helping to make Akin Gump a more inclusive place for all.”
Akin Gump’s announcement comes at a time of heightened focus on diversity among some firms and legal industry observers. Earlier this month, The American Lawyer reported that Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe also has a newly minted diversity and inclusion head based in New York. To fill that role, Orrick hired Joi Bourgeois, a lawyer and veteran legal career expert who came to the firm after serving as a vice president and director of business development at Greiner Consulting Group.
While Akin Gump and Orrick have recently brought on experienced diversity advocates, other law firms have faced scrutiny for allegedly falling short, particularly in the realm of gender diversity.
A series of gender bias lawsuits brought by women lawyers have recently targeted Chadbourne & Parke, now a part of Norton Rose Fulbright, Proskauer Rose, Winston & Strawn and Steptoe & Johnson. A similar lawsuit against Sedgwick brought by a woman former partner settled earlier this year.