Norton Rose Fulbright named its U.S. employment and labor leader Shauna Clark as global and U.S. chair, making her the first woman of color to hold either chair position at the firm.
Clark succeeds Durban, South Africa-based partner Andrew Robinson in the global position, which rotates across regions annually, and San Antonio, Texas-based partner George Scofield in the U.S. role, which has a four-year term.
“I am excited and humbled, frankly, that my global law firm, my partners and all of our people have the confidence in me and my leadership abilities to take on these roles,” Clark said in an interview with Bloomberg Law.
Clark joins a small group of women of color in Big Law leadership positions, which includes Cravath Swaine & Moore presiding partner Faiza Saeed, Munger Tolles & Olson’s co-managing partner Hailyn Chen, and Schiff Hardin spinoff Riley, Safer, Holmes & Cancila’s managing partner Patricia Brown Holmes. According to her RSHC bio, Holmes became the first Black female leader of a major law firm that is not women- or minority- owned when she assumed the post in 2018.
A report by the National Association of Women Lawyers found women, and particularly women of color, are gaining representation in the legal profession at a “glacial pace.” Women make up 21% of Big Law equity partner ranks, the report found, and of those, 86% are white and 14% are minorities.
Houston-based Clark will step into the roles on Jan. 1 and focus on a range of strategic priorities, including strengthening, maintaining and expanding client relationships, she said.
Clark will use her platform to further integrate and strengthen the law firm, she said. She will also work with the firm’s U.S. managing partner Jeff Cody and its global chief executive Gerry Pecht to support them in their roles, Clark said.
“As our new Global and US Chair, Shauna will bring her passion for the firm and her legal practice to client relationships across the US and around the globe,” Cody said in a statement.
Clark first joined the Swiss Verein’s predecessor firm Fulbright & Jaworski in 1994 and has built a practice representing clients in industries including energy, healthcare, and banking, in labor and employment law matters.
She marked several firsts for Norton Rose Fulbright in her decades there.
Clark was the first woman and first minority to head the firm’s U.S. employment and labor practice and the first female and minority lawyer to lead its Houston office, which she did from 2011 until 2013.
She is also the first African American woman lawyer to serve on the firm’s global executive committee. Clark also is a member of the firm’s U.S. diversity and inclusion committee and U.S. racial equality council.
She will now add two more firsts.
“Shauna is the first woman of color to hold either of these important positions at our firm as well as the only woman of color to be chair of an ‘Am Law 200’ firm,” said Norton Rose global chief executive Gerry Pecht said in a statement. Pecht was elected in August to succeed longtime Norton Rose leader Peter Martyr as head of the global firm.
With her selection to these new leadership roles at Norton Rose, Clark said she senses a shift within the larger legal industry that has long struggled with providing attorneys of color, especially women of color, opportunities for advancement.
“I absolutely believe that there is an opportunity for women and women of color, in particular, to stand up and show and prove,” she said.
“Women who look like me, and men who look like me, understand and appreciate that for many of us the margin of error is so narrow that it’s a one and done,” she said. “You have no opportunity to fail, and one mistake could be, and often is, catastrophic to an entire career.”
Amid a heightened focus on racial injustice and inequality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, corporate America and firms are listening and understanding that the needs of black women and people of color are different, and that they’ve often been held to a stricter, harder standard, she said.
“No one is asking for a hand out, no one is asking for preferential treatment,” Clark said. “The demand is to simply treat people and women of color fairly and, if given a fair chance, then you will start to see people like me in leadership positions.”
Norton Rose Fulbright is one of the world’s largest firms, ranking No.12 on the latest AmLaw rankings with $1.9 billion in revenue last year.
Like many of its competitors, the firm has made certain adjustments due to coronavirus. The firm implemented 15% cuts to salaries for many staff and non-partner lawyers, which were rolled back in the fall, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis, and laid off some attorneys and staff.