Thomas A. Mars, EVP and CAO of Walmart U.S., hands out the award in his name
Thomas A. Mars, EVP and CAO of Walmart U.S., hands out the award in his name

The legal community gathered in Chicago last night to celebrate empowerment and diversity at the 3rd Annual Transformative Leadership Awards, which honor general counsel and law firm partners who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing women in corporate law.

Hundreds of guests, including in-house counsel, law firm lawyers, legal consultants and others, attended InsideCounsel’s annual dinner, which took place at the new Radisson Blu Aqua hotel. InsideCounsel editor-in-chief Cathleen Flahardy and Michele Coleman Mayes, executive vice president, general counsel and chief legal officer of Allstate Insurance Co., co-chaired the event.

The Economic Empowerment Awards—Firm Wide Policies and Rainmaker—went to SNR Denton and Alston & Bird Partner Lawrie Demorest, respectively. Elliott Portnoy, global chief executive of SNR Denton, accepted the award on behalf of the firm and noted that women lead SNR Denton’s offices worldwide, in places as far away as Almaty, Kazakhstan. “We’re proud we don’t have to look very far to find diversity [our clients] demand,” he said.

Demorest, who implemented a mentoring program at Alston & Bird through which young lawyers can gain true jury trial experience, credited her rainmaker honor to her passion for forming friendships with colleagues and clients. “It’s more than just providing excellent service and doing excellent lawyering,” she said. “It’s about relationships.”

This year’s Pamela L. Carter Award went to Vicki O’Meara, executive vice president and president of Pitney Bowes Services Solutions. O’Meara actively identifies ways to mentor women to help them excel in their careers. She noted that although she is the third successive woman GC at Pitney Bowes (following Sara Moss and Mayes), she still is proud of her ability to make a difference and “keep reshaping the shoreline.”

Anastasia D. Kelly, who co-emceed the event with Mayes, presented the Anastasia D. Kelly Award to Janet Langford Kelly, senior vice president, legal, general counsel and corporate secretary of ConocoPhillips. At ConocoPhillips, Kelly has recruited and promoted 15 women into senior positions in the legal department. “The female voice is valued and not heard enough,” she noted, adding that “mentoring is the most deeply satisfying part of my career.” Winston & Strawn Partner Christine Edwards received the Mary Ann Hynes Pioneer Award. Although she said she never set out to be a pioneer, Edwards was the first woman general counsel on Wall Street and reshaped traditions among other Wall Street counsel. “There are other pioneers-in-making in this room, and we need to help them,” she said.

The final award—the Thomas A. Mars Award—went to Thomas Sabatino, executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Walgreens. Mars, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Walmart U.S., attended the Transformative Leadership Awards dinner despite recent legal troubles at his company. After a video played in which Mars’ colleagues talked about his accomplishments in promoting diversity at Walmart, Mars addressed the audience and said he was honored and humbled.

Sabatino, the only male recipient of a 2012 Transformative Leadership Award, offered two pieces of advice to other men in the in-house profession: One, it is important to listen to difference voices and opinions, and two, it’s important to make others hear those voices. “The female voice is subtle and insightful,” he said.

The event concluded with a special tribute to Mayes, who will not be co-emceeing the event hereafter. SNR Denton Partner Kara Baysinger, who co-authored “Courageous Counsel: Conversations with Women General Counsel in the Fortune 500” with Mayes, called Mayes “truly courageous” and a “brilliant lawyer.” Adrienne Logan, associate general counsel of Godiva Chocolatier Inc., also honored Mayes, saying she “challenged me to think bigger and see things in a much more bold way.”

Mayes accepted a photo book chronicling the making of “Courageous Counsel.” She imparted these final words of advice to the audience: “Make sure you leave behind a path that’s worth following.”

Click here to view images from the event.