Tommy Shi, director of diversity and inclusion, and Namita Tripathi Shah, chair of private equity and finance business unit at Day Pitney. Courtesy photo

Day Pitney has made a key hire to underscore its commitment to diversity and inclusion, pulling talent from the legal department at a major international brand.

On the heels of recently achieving “Mansfield ‘Plus’ Certification” from Diversity Lab, the firm announced Tuesday it had hired its new director of diversity and inclusion, Tommy M. Shi, former in-house counsel and 10-year diversity and inclusion officer for Mercedes-Benz USA.

In a phone interview between orientation meetings Tuesday afternoon, Shi expressed enthusiasm about both the Mansfield Plus achievement and the opportunity to take part in diversity efforts with demonstrated success at a leading firm.

“I think it’s a great time to be at Day Pitney because of the great foundation work that’s been done on the D&I front,” Shi said from the firm’s Parsippany, New Jersey, office, where he’ll be based, in a senior management position. “I’ve had a chance to learn about the firm’s core values and its leadership, and from what I’ve learned, I’m just really impressed.”

Coming from Mercedes-Benz USA, Shi said he knows the importance of diversity, having been on board with the auto company while watching Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Formula 1 fame race to international fame. Hamilton is the sport’s current world champion, leads in points this year and is the circuit’s only black driver.

Shi met Hamilton during the driver’s ascendancy and he’s seen how the champion has helped broaden Mercedes’ appeal, during a time when Shi was working as the company’s diversity and inclusion officer for the United States. “It was a great ride and a great experience with Mercedes, and I’m happy to take what I’ve learned and done to Day Pitney,” he said.

He added that he recognizes similarities in the approach to diversity at Day Pitney and Mercedes. “The approach in the D&I space is that of a leader in diversity and inclusion, from a corporate sphere to a legal sphere and in general. When I made my decision to come here, I saw a lot of the same strengths that I had the pleasure of associating myself with at Mercedes-Benz.”

At 55, Shi said diversity efforts involve more than merely hiring people for appearance’s sake.

“It’s multifaceted,” he said. “It’s more than just race and ethnicity.”

One upcoming challenge, for instance, is the next iteration of the Mansfield Certification, known as Mansfield 2.0, which will rate firms on their commitment to LGBT+ representation.

“Age has also become more relevant in terms of focusing on the millennials,” Shi added. “I think the answer is that age is a very important aspect of diversity on all fronts, whether on the front side with millennials or on the side with folks with more experience. I think the key is to value your age. The minute you exclude one aspect, whether it’s on the younger side or not hiring people with more experience, you’re going to lose out. The goal is to be inclusive from all sides. You can have all the diversity in the world, but if you don’t have an inclusive environment, you have nothing.”

Since 2011, Shi has served as the president of the board of directors of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He also currently serves as a member of the Leadership Advisory Council of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

In Day Pitney’s Hartford, Connecticut, office, partner Namita Tripathi Shah has had parallel successes. The 47-year-old attorney was elected president of the South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut this year, having worked for 22 years at the firm. She also chairs the firm’s private equity and finance business unit.

“We were one of the first firms to hire a director of diversity,” she said. “There was a time period where we didn’t have a director and we could see the efforts start to slip. I think the firm reorganized and made a sincere commitment that this was what we were going to do.”

Tripathi Shah said commitment is the key word when it comes to successful diversity and inclusion efforts. “It takes a level of commitment beyond just having a director of diversity. I think within the firm we see that all levels have to be paying attention to these issues. It can’t be up to just one person. It’s really got to be up to all the partners.”

“I think one of the biggest challenges we have is on the retention side,” Tripathi Shah added. “There’s a certain caliber of attorney that Day Pitney looks for, and oftentimes, I think, diverse attorneys are in such high demand that they may start out with us but they’re highly sought-after, and retaining them is a challenge.”

Retention success means not just competing with larger firms in other markets, but with corporate entities right next door that are keen on scooping up talent to fortify in-house legal departments—a sort of converse to Shi’s migration from Mercedes. “I think it’s such an important topic at in-house and legal departments at private firms, and even the government,” Tripathi Shah said. ”Everyone is seeking the same level of attorney, and I think that’s the biggest challenge.”

One of the innovations Day Pitney has used in an effort to retain diverse talent is a sponsorship program that pairs young attorneys with higher-level attorneys who point out early on when they think an associate is showing promise. It’s a bit more than mentorship, Tripathi Shah noted, in that having a sponsor gives the young attorney “your own private cheerleader within the firm” who will spread the word that he or she is on track for partnership. The sponsorship program began by focusing on attorneys from diverse backgrounds, and the payoff has come with the firm’s latest rankings, she said.

Shi, joining Day Pitney as a member of the firm’s senior management team, will lead the development and implementation of the firm’s strategic diversity and inclusion plan by serving as a thought leader, ambassador and advocate covering all of the firm’s offices, from Boston to New York, Washington, D.C., and Florida.

“Tommy has a unique and impressive background with deep experience in driving diversity and inclusion initiatives, and we are delighted that he has joined Day Pitney,” said Tom Goldberg, the firm’s managing partner. “We have made great strides toward creating a diverse and inclusive legal environment at the firm to benefit our attorneys, staff members, and our clients, and Tommy will help bring us to the next level.”

Shi is a graduate of Boston College Law School. Prior to working with Mercedes, he was an associate at Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti of Morristown, New Jersey.