Attorneys at the Top

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(L. to r.) Shemin V. Proctor, Esq., Rhonda R. Trotter, Esq., Paulette Brown, Esq., Benjamin F. Wilson, Esq.Despite the remarkable contributions of minorities to the U.S. economy and projections that people of color will dominate the country’s population by 2050, the legal profession remains overwhelmingly Caucasian. Less than 14 percent of all lawyers at American law firms identified themselves as minorities in 2013. The figures are even less impressive in corporate legal departments. The Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s 2013 survey of women and minority general counsel in Fortune 1000 companies found 72 attorneys of color (7.2 percent) serving in the rank of their company’s chief legal officer. While this is an increase from last year’s survey, it still pales to the proportion of diversity in the general U.S. population, which is currently 35 percent non-Caucasian. MCCA also found 48 general counsel of color in the Fortune 500, 29 men and 19 women, compared with 45 (27 men and 18 women) from the 2012 survey. Of the 48, 25 are African-Americans.

Increasing diversity in the legal field requires increasing diversity within law schools. In this regard, the actions of Charlotte School of Law are commendable. Reputedly is one of the most diverse law schools in the country, with one third of the student body African-American, Charlotte School of Law has launched a number of initiatives to increase diversity, including partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities on pre-law programs and a pre-law academy to assess law school readiness. It has abandoned the traditional emphasis on LSAT scores and GPAs, admitting a diverse student body that may not otherwise have access to a legal education. Yet, students at Charlotte School of Law graduate ready to practice – 90 percent of those who took the bar in February passed on their first attempt, compared to a state average of 80 percent.

In the pages that follow, we profile four dynamic achievers at leading U.S. law firms: Paulette Brown, Esq., Partner, Chief Diversity Officer at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP; Shemin V. Proctor, Esq., Managing Partner at Andrews Kurth LLP; Rhonda R. Trotter, Esq., Partner; Co-Head, Trademark, Copyright and False Advertising Group; Office Managing Partner at Kaye Scholer LLP; Benjamin F. Wilson, Esq., Managing Principal at Beveridge & Diamond P.C. and Founder at Diversity Partners Network.

Profiles by Sonja Gracy

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