Lawyers at the ABA’s “Talking About Race” event said they wanted to have a candid discussion about race — and that’s what they got.
Panelist Stanley Stallworth — an African-American Sidley Austin real estate partner who heads up the 1,700-lawyer firm’s diversity efforts — shed some light Friday morning on how some very powerful partners at his firm really feel about race.
Following the June 2000 merger between Sidley and Brown & Wood, Stallworth was asked to speak at the first executive committee meeting of the newly combined firm in New York. His task was to make the case for a firmwide, administrative diversity position.
The night before his presentation, a friend looked over Stallworth’s prepared remarks and advised him to tone it down and make them a little more “palatable.” Stallworth agreed and spent the evening rewriting the speech.
|The ABA in SF |
Legal Pad is roaming the floor of the annual meeting of the American Bar Association. Read our latest reports:
The next morning, he arrived at the 95th floor of the World Trade Center. Taking advantage of a break in the meeting, Stallworth was distributing his handouts around the conference table when a partner on the executive committee approached him, holding out his cell phone.
“Could you or someone from your building help me repair my cell phone,” Stallworth recalled the UK partner saying. “I have a conference call coming up.”
Confused, but still wanting to be helpful, Stallworth didn’t know what to do. Luckily, another Sidley executive committee member came running over and grabbed the partner to explain that Stallworth was a lawyer at the firm — and making a presentation on diversity at the meeting.
But the UK partner didn’t even bat an eye. (We’re pretty sure we know who it is, because Stallworth mentioned his first name, but we’ll give the guy a break here.) “As opposed to any gracious move, he said ‘Oh. I thought he was from the maintenance at the building,’ and walked away,” Stallworth recalled. “At that point, I decided to go back to my first speech.”
He was flooded with calls from lawyers saying he should’ve toned it down in following days, but was eventually made co-chairman of the firm’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, a position he still holds today.
— Zusha Elinson