Front row L to R: Sylvia Sytsma, Christa Clark, Lorraine Survis, Mitchelle Pierre, Dina Mack, Patricia Nichols, Laura Civello.Back row L to R: Dawn Leahy, Kim Uva, Benjamin Deutsch, Deirdre Flannery, Michael Prevoznik, Amer Pharaon, James Ruger, Ruth Mattes, Doreen Arrigoni
A BLEND OF TALENT: Left to right, Quest Diagnostics’ legal team: Dawn Leahy, Sylvia Sytsma, Kim Uva, Christa Clark, Benjamin Deutsch, Lorraine Survis, Deirdre Flannery, Mitchelle Pierre, Michael Prevoznik (GC), Dina Mack, Amer Pharaon, Patricia Nichols, James Ruger, Laura Civello, Ruth Mattes and Doreen Arrigoni. (Absent: deputy GC William O’Shaughnessy.) (Carmen Natale)

For Michael Prevoznik, the general counsel at Quest Diagnostics, a diverse workplace is a healthier workplace. “You’re definitely better off and more creative when you work with people from a variety of backgrounds,” he said.

The easy part, he added, is that he believes deeply that fostering diversity is the right thing to do. His other reason to promote diversity is a practical one.

The attorneys and staff in a corporate legal department must be proud of their work and feel empowered, he said. Otherwise, you won’t always get the benefit of their skills or their perspective. “It can’t be just a paycheck.”

In fact, while the importance of diversity is widely recognized in Quest’s legal department, this isn’t what matters on a day-to-day basis, said deputy general counsel William O’Shaughnessy. “What counts is being a good lawyer.”

Being good lawyers has brought a diverse group of practitioners to Quest, a medical testing and diagnostic services company headquartered in Madison, N.J., where 17 of the company’s lawyers are based.

The statistics are impressive: half (14 of 29) of Quest’s attorneys are women, including the head of the government affairs department (which is part of legal). Five of 11 senior attorneys are women, as is one of two legal interns.

Quest’s in-house team stands out, too, for the number of attorneys of minority ethnic or racial background. Almost a third of its lawyers fall into this group: Four are Asian-American, three are African-American, one is Hispanic and two are Arab-American. Among senior lawyers, one is Asian-American and one is African-American, as is one of the interns.

“We’ve got a good mix and we’re really proud of the mix,” said O’Shaughnessy. “I’m a minority!” the Irish Catholic added with a smile in his voice, jokingly referring to himself as one of the “pale, male and stale.”

O’Shaughnessy said the mix works well because Quest’s legal department is the kind of place where labels aren’t important. Again, he said, what matters is how well you do the work.

Not only is a workplace inhabited by a variety of people more interesting than the old-style white-male dominated club, O’Shaughnessy said, but it is also “interestingly reflective of the world we live in. …If everyone was in the Chamber of Commerce or a knitting club,” it wouldn’t be as interesting a place to work, he added.

One testament to Prevoznik’s success in creating an inclusive environment is that “people like working with each other. People are not running out of here,” said O’Shaughnessy, noting that more than a third of the company’s lawyers have been with Quest for 10 years or more and another seven for more than five years.

Working moms have found that the legal department offers them “great flexibility” in organizing their work lives, said Dina Mack, deputy general counsel and chief litigation officer. She gave the example of a successful job-sharing arrangement between an attorney who’d just returned from maternity leave and the woman who had replaced her. “We benefit from two people’s wisdom, and you can balance work and personal life,” said Mack.

O’Shaughnessy said he believes the entire company benefits from the number of women in its legal department. The legal and business sides are “joined at the hip,” and women play a major role in the company’s culture, he said. Business people feel comfortable approaching in-house counsel for input. “Legal gets things straightened out, gets things organized. There are a lot of legal things going on in these conversations, but there is also business savvy. …If you don’t have strong people doing that, it doesn’t work.” And, at Quest, half of those strong lawyers are women.

Creating a diverse workforce takes active recruiting. Prevoznik believes in panel interviews, which allow him to make hiring decisions with the help of his team—perhaps challenging the stereotypes behind assumptions, he said. To him, getting to know the person behind the list of achievements is crucial, and the general counsel said he usually looks carefully at the bottom section of a résumé. “Personal interests…who is this person?” are more important than grade point average or which school they attended. “You don’t want ‘they’re like me’ to be your criterion,” he said. “It’s what they bring to the table.”

Diversity is also a key factor in hiring outside counsel. Since the beginning of 2013, for example, the lead outside counsel on four of Quest’s six acquisitions has been a woman.

“When there are multiple firms that can do the work, how do I pick from five qualified candidates?” asked Prevoznik. If the outside firm sends a diverse team, it may make for a more comfortable working relationship. “It’s not the sole factor, but it plays into the mix,” he said.

Allen Overby is chairman of the corporate group at Bass, Berry & Sims in Nashville, Tenn., whose team of M&A lawyers on Quest work is headed by a woman, as is the firm’s top regulatory attorney for Quest.

“The second question in the RFP [request for proposal] was about our diversity efforts and whether we would consider sending a diverse team—the first being ‘Describe your firm,’” said Overby. While it’s common these days for in-house attorneys to ask about gender and racial balance, Overby said Quest’s questions were “very direct and detailed, and went to the heart of the team.”

“We really do look at it,” said Mack, the deputy general counsel. “We can tell when a law firm is just paying lip service.”

“They really do care about diversity and really pay attention to it,” said Hope Foster, who heads Mintz Levin’s health-care enforcement defense practice in Washington, D.C. “To the exclusion of excellence of quality and cost? No. They have extremely high standards.

“I’m evidence of their commitment to diversity,” said Foster, who’s represented the company or its predecessor since 1974. “It’s unusual to have the largest publicly traded company in the world in this space head up the team with a woman. It’s a little less unusual now, but for that period of time, it was almost unheard of.”

Clare O’Brien, a Shearman & Sterling partner who does M&A work for the company, cited the opportunity to engage with “a whole range of people” as among the several reasons she likes working with Quest. M&A work continues to be mostly a male province, she said, and “The people I work with [at Quest] tend to be women, Kim Uva, or Asian-American, Jing-Kai Syz,” she said.

This year, as of the end of May, she said, in its work for Quest, Shearman & Sterling had fielded a group of lawyers that was 40 percent female, 15 percent Asian and 7 percent African-American, Hispanic or mixed race.

Quest’s legal department had a diversity committee for many years, and Prevoznik served a stint as head of the company’s inclusion efforts. Now, however, diversity has become an organic part of hiring. “We don’t need it,” Prevoznik said of the defunct diversity committee—”not that the journey ever stops.” •