Editor: Joe, please describe the background for the Minority Corporate Counsel’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Who was the first recipient and what were some of his outstanding achievements? Who is receiving the award this year and why?
West: The Lifetime Achievement Award was given for the first time last year to Vernon Jordan in honor of his long career of contributions not only to the diverse lawyers in the profession, but to the profession itself and to society at large. Dennis Archer, who is equally deserving, is our honoree this year. His accomplishments speak for themselves: The fact that he was the first minority to be named president of the American Bar Association in and of itself would be an accomplishment, but he also served with distinction as mayor of Detroit and was an associate justice on the Supreme Court of Michigan. Any one of those three individual accomplishments alone would be noteworthy. He was also president of the National League of Cities, was very active in ABA activities and other civic endeavors, and was managing partner of a major law firm.
Aside from his many honors and accomplishments, Dennis is very thoughtful and giving of himself to various charitable endeavors and has been a tremendous mentor for younger lawyers. I am honored to know him and to call him my friend.
Editor: Please describe again for our readers the mission of the MCCA and why this upcoming Diversity Honors Gala is so important to bringing into one focus the honoring of our nation's foremost corporate and industry leaders as a manifestation of that mission.
West: MCCA was established in 1997 to improve the profession by helping it to become more diverse. By focusing on recruitment, retention and advancement of the full range of talent, not only do diverse lawyers, who have historically not been given opportunities for advancement, benefit, but the profession as a whole benefits. In the last year or so we have expanded our focus to include not just diversity as a recruiting tool but also inclusiveness as a tool for combating attrition, enhancing retention and providing opportunities for growth, development and advancement both in corporate law departments and in law firms. Our awards are designed to reward those organizations and individuals that have made efforts to improve the profession by enhancing opportunities for the full range of talent, especially for diverse lawyers. Hopefully, this recognition will provide an incentive for other organizations to do the same.
Editor: Why should we keep “inclusiveness” and “diversity” in legal offices foremost in our thoughts throughout the year in achieving a good balance in the profession?
West: Our profession has been at the forefront of changing our society for the better. Even though demographically our society continues to become more and more diverse, we see less and less diversity among the ranks of our lawyers, particularly in large law firms. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our profession still remains the least diverse white collar profession in this country. It is incumbent upon all of us in this profession to see to it that we develop the full range of talent that can help address our myriad problems. Studies show that diverse groups are more creative about problem solving. We need to deploy all of our available talent to problem solving to meet our country’s challenges. It makes sense to do all that we can to make our profession more diverse, not just for the individuals involved but for the organizations involved and society at large.
Thank you so much for your support. We really appreciate your publication and the excellent work that you do. We hope that all of your readers will take an opportunity to go to our website, www.mcca.com, to review our robust research portfolio and to take note of our upcoming Pathways to Diversity Conference in New York on September 10 and our Awards Gala on September 11, as well as our other extraordinary events around the U.S. throughout the year.
Editor: Dennis, please tell us about your background as a lawyer and business leader.
Archer: I began the practice of law in 1970 when I was sworn in to both the State of Michigan and the federal bar in Detroit, and became an associate in the firm of Gragg & Gardner, boasting two partners and four associates. In 1971, we four associates formed our own law firm, Hall Stone Allen & Archer PC. In 1973, I joined Charfoos & Charfoos (later to become Charfoos, Charfoos & Archer). In 1985, I was nominated by Governor James Blanchard to the Michigan Supreme Court and in 1986 was successfully elected to an eight-year term. I resigned in December of 1990 and joined the law firm of Dickinson Wright on January 1, 1991. In 1992, I announced my candidacy for mayor of the city of Detroit and was successfully elected in November of 1993. I served as mayor from 1994 through the end of 2001. In January, 2002 I rejoined Dickinson Wright as an equity partner and chairman of the firm. On January 1, 2010 I became chairman and CEO of Dennis W. Archer PLLC and chair emeritus of Dickinson Wright.
My bar association leadership activities included being president of the Wolverine Bar Association in 1979, president of the National Bar Association in 1983, first person of color in 1984 to be president of the State Bar of Michigan and first person of color to be president of the American Bar Association in 2003.
In 2006, I became chairman of the board of the Detroit Regional Chamber, the largest metropolitan chamber in the United States with 20,000 members.
Four years before I became mayor, according to the U.S. census, Detroit had the highest percentage of persons living below the poverty level of any American city. During my term as mayor, creating jobs and providing incentives for businesses to invest in Detroit was one of my primary goals. We obtained the Empowerment Zone award from the Clinton administration and worked with Governor John Engler to set up the Renaissance Zone in the city. We were noted by the census in 2000 as having created a large number of paying jobs. According to Site Selection Magazine, Detroit was quoted as having led the nation in creating new businesses and jobs three years in a row.
During my two terms as mayor, I served on the board of trustees of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and was president of the National League of Cities in 2000-2001, representing some 18,000 cities and towns. I traveled around the country and internationally to promote Detroit as a great venue for business. Brenda Schneider, vice president of Comerica Bank, documented $20.2 billion in investments in Detroit from 1994 to June of 2001. I have always enjoyed multitasking and equipping myself to better serve my clients – whether that is staying very active in the ABA, serving on three publically traded corporate boards or keeping abreast of current legal developments.
Editor: What does the Minority Corporate Counsel Achievement Award mean to you?
Archer: First, I was surprised that the Lifetime Achievement Award was going to be bestowed upon me. The first recipient of the award, Vernon Jordan, is someone whom I have always admired – for his outstanding work as president of the National Urban League, his involvement in civil rights, his service on corporate boards and his role as partner in a major law firm.
My involvement in diversity and inclusion issues became a focus when my wife, Trudy, and I attended our first meeting of the Young Lawyers Section of the ABA in 1972. The year before we had attended the National Bar Association Annual Meeting where Chesterfield Smith, then president–elect of the ABA, appeared, stating that the ABA wanted to change its attitude toward excluding minorities from its ranks. Prior to 1943, there were requirements that applicants for membership, if there was uncertainty whether they were white, had to be met in person to determine they were not persons of color. One of the first persons of color to be admitted as a member of the ABA was William T. Coleman, who at the time was clerk to Justice Felix Frankfurter, who urged him to join the ABA. He later served in President Gerald Ford’s cabinet. Others followed as trailblazers, such as Cora Walker, who set up the Commercial Law Section of the National Bar Association as an opportunity for lawyers who wished to represent Corporate America. There has been substantial progress for lawyers of color within the legal profession, but much still needs to be done.
MCCA Employer of Choice Honorees
Chevron Corporation, Western Region
Hewitt Pate, Vice President and General Counsel
Chevron’s Law Function values the rich diversity of ideas, experience and skills its employees bring to the company. The Law Function’s diversity program consists of targeted recruitment of minority legal professionals, promotion of diverse attorneys to management positions, and establishment of a Law Function Diversity Council.
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, Midwest Region
Pat Hatler, Chief Legal Officer
Nationwide’s commitment to diversity touches every aspect of its law department. The Diversity and Inclusion Council considers issues and makes recommendations that are implemented department-wide. As a signatory of “A Call to Action – Diversity in the Legal Profession,” Nationwide supports diversity in the legal profession and selects and works with law firms that share this commitment.
H.J. Heinz Company, Mid-Atlantic Region
Ted Bobby, Executive Vice President and General Counsel
The Heinz Law Department pursues diversity and inclusion initiatives across all functions to achieve a skilled, high-performing workforce that is reflective of the diverse global marketplace. Guided by its diversity plan, Heinz has created an environment in which all members can feel valued and respected.
DHL, South/Southwest Region
Joshua Frank, General Counsel
The DHL Legal Department has implemented various diversity initiatives, including manager evaluations of recruitment and promotion of diverse staff. As a result, 50 percent of the department’s attorneys are minorities and 50 percent are women.
Morgan Stanley, Northeast Region
Eric F. Grossman, Chief Legal Officer
Morgan Stanley’s Legal and Compliance Division creates an inclusive culture that celebrates and leverages the differences among its employees. Its Diversity & Inclusion Committee spearheads these efforts by focusing on recruitment, career development and community outreach.
Published June 26, 2012.