Benjamin Wilson doesn’t measure success by wins and losses in the courtroom. Instead, when asked about his career, the chairman of Beveridge & Diamond talks about the young lawyers he’s helped. There was the law school graduate from Austin, Texas, looking for a new job. Wilson shared a few contacts and soon the young man began work at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the nation’s capital.
Another, a young woman at Wilson’s firm in Washington, D.C., wanted to join the National Association of Women Lawyers. Wilson had the firm pay her sponsorship, he said, and his encouragement helped her start the organization’s environmental law section.
“The whole point is, can we inspire others and offer hope to others?” Wilson said. “Otherwise, it’s just another story about just another lawyer who had a good career and made money. Hopefully life is more than that.”
A few years after graduating Harvard Law School in 1976, Wilson worked in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice for three years before returning to private practice. Wilson said his minority peers didn’t get the same opportunities to build their own practices when they left the department. He wanted to change that.
So Wilson founded the Diverse Partners Network in 2008 to help minority and women attorneys make professional contacts. He thought maybe 25 people would make the first meeting. Instead, 95 people crammed into his D.C. home on a steamy August day.
“We want our lawyers to understand how to build a practice. We want to provide them a network,” he said. “I don’t want you to have to be [former U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder to have those opportunities.”
Now, the group holds periodic meetings across the country and its weekly newsletter reaches roughly 6,000 lawyers. In 2012, Wilson established the African American General Counsel Network and the African American Managing Partners Network.
“There are not many lawyers who have been as impactful, at least during my time as a lawyer, on the Washington legal community than Ben,” said Grace Speights, a partner at Morgan Lewis. Speights, who has known Wilson for nearly 30 years, said he is tireless in mentoring young lawyers. If Wilson asks her to meet with one of his mentees, she always agrees.
“Whether it’s in or outside of a law firm, Ben takes the time,” Speights said. “If kids meet with Ben … we will talk to them, because nobody says no to Ben.”
Wilson is approaching his 10th year managing Beveridge & Diamond, one of the country’s largest environmental law firms. In May, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson named Wilson deputy monitor for emissions and environmental in overseeing Volkswagen’s plea agreement over its diesel emissions scandal.
Wilson also serves on the board of governors at the District of Columbia Bar Association and sits on Northwestern Mutual’s board of directors.
How does he define success? “It was Jackie Robinson who said, a life means nothing except for the impact it has on others. And I believe that.”
Name: Benjamin F. Wilson
Firm: Beveridge & Diamond, Washington, D.C.
Practice: Environmental law
Law School: Harvard Law School, 1976
Advice for young lawyers: “Demand and work for ‘transformational’ change — now — to address the great challenges of our time: climate change, inequality of resources and opportunities, and the ever widening gap between those who benefit from technology and those who are displaced by it.”