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The Black General Counsel Project: Con Edison’s Deneen Donnley

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:01 AM

Deneen Donnley, the general counsel and senior vice president of energy company Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, Inc., said that advocacy networks and determined lawyers from both legal departments and law firms have helped drive recent improvements in Black in-house representation.

“Black general counsel and law firm partners have collaborated both formally and informally to provide opportunities to Black attorneys and to provide the coaching, mentorship, and strategic insight necessary to advance to senior-level in-house ranks,” Donnley said in a recent Bloomberg Law survey.

Black general counsel now make up over 5% of all general counsel in the Fortune 1000 , a significant milestone tracked by the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative and first reported by Bloomberg Law. We reached out to over 50 Black legal chiefs whose companies were in the Fortune 1000 in 2019 or 2020 to learn more about their careers and diversity at the top of the legal industry and heard from 39 of them.

Donnley joined New York-based ConEd in 2019. Prior to that, she spent nearly a decade with financial services company, the United Services Automobile Association.

These responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Bloomberg Law: What are some key matters you and your team are working on right now?

Deneen Donnley: We are currently working on clean energy regulatory issues and transactions, review of the law department operating model, and on matters related to the Tropical Storm Isaias Department of Public Service Investigation.

BL: What’s the best leadership advice you’ve gotten, from mentors or others?

DD: Always seek out perspectives that differ from yours.

BL: What advice would you give to lawyers who want to go in-house?

DD: You need to be much more than a lawyer—you need to understand the business, become a trusted advisor, and enable the company to achieve its strategic goals while understanding and managing risk.

BL: What do you wish you knew at the beginning of your career that you know now?

DD: I wish I had understood earlier the importance of relationship building, building followership—or being the type of leader that inspires others to follow—and critical thinking.

BL: Why do you think the number of Black general counsel has been on the rise? Have you observed any changes in the past few years that have contributed to recent increases in representation?

DD: I think that the increase in the number of Black general counsels has been a result of focused efforts to identify and develop talent, acknowledge and address unconscious bias, and hold leaders accountable for diversity efforts.

These focused efforts include the work of the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative, the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, and many other organizations and influential general counsel. Black general counsel and law firm partners have collaborated both formally and informally to provide opportunities to Black attorneys and to provide the coaching, mentorship, and strategic insight necessary to advance to senior-level in-house ranks. These programs and informal networks have increased significantly over the past few years and are increasingly being supported by corporate law departments as a way to identify and develop talent. Lastly, what gets measured gets done. Increasingly, consistent with overall corporate diversity & inclusion initiatives, law departments are measuring their progress in developing and advancing diverse talent and holding leaders accountable for doing so.

BL: When you’re looking to hire outside counsel, how does diversity come into play in your evaluation of law firms?

DD: Diversity is a key factor in identifying law firms to support Con Edison. We are interested in their overall commitment to diversity and the extent to which Con Edison matters would be supported by diverse teams. We engage our law firms annually on diversity issues.

BL: What opportunities or changes has the pandemic brought to your job and your team?

DD: Improving our ability to engage through technology is an opportunity associated with the pandemic. Ongoing challenges include balancing family obligations and work—all within the same setting—and maintaining the culture of the company and department while we are remote.

Questions by Ruiqi Chen and Lisa Helem.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ruiqi Chen in Washington, D.C. at rchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com;
Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com

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