Akin Gump’s New Leadership Shows Firm Drive Toward Diversity

Jan. 15, 2019, 9:56 AM

Akin Gump Struass Hauer & Feld’s recent appointment of Ackneil M. Muldrow III as head of its New York office sets the firm apart from competitors, as two of its major offices are now run by black attorneys, a rarity in Big Law.

Muldrow joins Anthony T. Pierce, another black attorney, who is partner in charge of the Washington office. And the firm’s chair is Kim Koopersmith, a woman partner.

While the numbers of black partners across law firms remain small, and women lawyers still lag behind in partnership ranks, Akin Gump is among the firms that are showcasing gains in diversity and inclusion.

“Our diversity strategy includes a clear focus on diverse leadership, as diverse leadership enhances the perspectives we offer our clients and demonstrates to everyone at our firm that we are walking the walk,” Koopersmith told Bloomberg Law.

Providing clear role models for advancement and future leadership models, she said, in an email, “has been an intentional focus in our committees, practices and offices, including choosing Trey Muldrow and Tony Pierce, both African-Americans, as the partners in charge of our two largest offices.”

Women, one of whom is black, also lead Akin offices in Abu Dhabi, Hartford, Houston, and Moscow.

‘The Exception, Not the Rule’

Other law firms have made some progress on diversity with black lawyers in such leadership positions.

At Holland & Knight, for example, Kelly-Ann Cartwright chairs the firm’s management committee and is an executive partner in Miami, and Steven Wright is executive partner in Boston.

But there are still relatively few black leaders at law firms.

“It’s the exception, not the rule,” said Benjamin F. Wilson, chairman of environmental law firm Beveridge & Diamond.

Newly released research has underlined the paucity of black partners more broadly. Only 1.8 percent of partners are black in more than 1,000 law offices across the country, according to a study issued last week by the National Association for Law Placement.

The percentage is 2.09 percent at large law firms with more than 700 attorneys. Akin Gump, founded in 1945, has about 900 lawyers. Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., a prominent black attorney and a former presidential adviser, joined the firm in 1982 and is now senior counsel.

The firm underscores diversity with recruitment and mentoring, and now has 11 percent minority lawyers and 20 percent women lawyers.

Koopersmith became chair in 2013 after serving as the firm’s managing partner where she oversaw recruitment and professional development, among other areas.

She has strongly backed the firm’s diversity efforts, which are based on a two-tiered system, featuring firm-wide and local office committees.

Its 13-member firm-wide committee is chaired by Karol Kepchar, an intellectual property partner in Washington who also chairs that office’s diversity committee. The committee also includes representation from the firm’s human resources, lawyer recruiting and development, and marketing departments.

The firm places a premium on mentoring, which can be a factor in the compensation process.

New Office Leader

Muldrow joined Akin Gump in 1997 after a year as an associate at another firm. His practice focuses on transactions like buyouts, mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, and fund restructurings.

He takes over from Daniel H. Golden, a financial restructuring lawyer, who had the job for 14 years, when the firm’s New York office grew by more than 60 percent to 250 lawyers.

It is the firm’s second-largest office after Washington, which is headed by Pierce. He’s a litigator who has handled disputes in federal and state courts involving a range of industries, including telecommunications, technology, health care, energy, financial services, and government contracting.

Both men are active in their communities. Muldrow, who serve on the board of directors of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and other philanthropic boards, and Pierce is a past president and member of the board of trustees of the Legal Aid Society for the District of Columbia, and the Greater Washington Partnership, a group of local chief executives who work to improve the regional business climate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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