Sidley Austin has named Maria D. Melendez as its chief diversity officer, taking the reins of the firm’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion.
Melendez was a member of Sidley’s diversity and inclusion committee and served as its New York chair from 2002-16. She’ll replace Sally L. Olson, who served in the role since 2011 and is retiring May 1.
Melendez, previously a litigation partner, said she wants to “further advance our diversity efforts as we recruit, hire, develop and promote exceptionally talented lawyers from all backgrounds around the globe.”
A key focus in her new job, Melendez said, will be on retaining the diverse lawyers already at the firm.
“Like other firms, we recruit very well, but where I would like us to do better is in the retention, including women and minorities. We want to help our lawyers make the deeper connections with the clients, develop more diverse teams, and create more opportunities” for lawyers “to build on relationships both internally and externally,” she said.
Based in Chicago, Sidley has more than 2,000 lawyers in 20 offices around the world.
An increasing number of law firms are adding diversity and inclusion officers, especially as corporate clients express interest in a diversified set of lawyers to handle their legal matters.
Several major firms, including Kirkland & Ellis and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, have hired diversity officers in recent years.
Melendez has won awards for her efforts to promote diversion and inclusion.
She started as an associate and became partner in 2002. Her experience includes litigation and arbitration of high-stakes commercial disputes, representing clients in state and federal courts and in arbitration tribunals.
She is chair of the board of directors of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a civil rights organization focusing on protecting and advancing the rights of Latinos in the United States.
She has also been serving as the firm’s representative to Her Justice, Inc., a public service organization that provides free legal services to low-income women in New York City on domestic abuse and child custody.