Joe K. West: Driving Diversity & Inclusion

by LP Green, II

Immediately after the re-election of President Obama, the National Law Journal published an article written by Joseph K. West analyzing the election’s broader implications on corporate diversity efforts. In the article, West predicted a tipping point after which corporations and law firms would have to adopt meaningful approaches to inclusiveness and would need “policy nimbleness” in order to quickly meet the expectations of an ever more active stakeholder base. He ended the article with the following passage: “If the 2012 election is any indication, politicians aren’t the only ones who may find themselves crushed by the combined weight of demographic inevitability and constituencies that are increasingly cognizant of diversity and inclusion.” That statement has proven to be extremely prescient.

Across the board, corporations and large firms have become far more attuned to what their customers, employees, boards of directors, and other stakeholders need and want in the diversity and inclusion space. Recent examples include the flurry of corporate statements in the wake of the Charlottesville attacks, the increased appreciation for the Black Lives Matter movement, and Starbucks shutting its doors to train its entire workforce. This illustrates what West calls the shrinking “accountability buffer” that once separated stakeholder expectations from corporate policy and actions.

These recent gains, however, are the culmination of many years of work in the three major fronts where these issues have played out: Law firms, corporate law departments and diversity advocacy groups. West has played a leadership role in each of those arenas:

He is an excellent trial lawyer who honed his skill handling high profile litigation with a litigation boutique as well as at Entergy Corporation in New Orleans. Sandra Miller, Associate General Counsel at Entergy, once remarked that “watching Joe West in trial is better than chocolate”.

He was recruited to the litigation group at Walmart Stores Inc. and was eventually named head of Walmart’s Outside Counsel Management group. He helped use his oversight of the company’s 600 outside firms, 25,000 time-keepers and $300 million plus outside counsel spend to provide opportunities for women and minority lawyers and women and minority owned law firms. His efforts included implementation of an origination credit certification requirement to ensure the diverse lawyers the company named as relationship partner benefited financially from the relationship. He also played a key role in the establishment of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) and the National Association of Women and Minority Owned Law Firms’ (NAMWOLF) Inclusion Initiative.

During his tenure as CEO of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) he created programs to provide business development opportunities for diverse lawyers, and to train organizations about the then emerging field of implicit bias. In 2016 Joe was named Partner in the Trial Group and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Duane Morris, LLP, a global firm with 800+ lawyers in 29 offices around the world. He manages firm-diversity initiatives as well as an active trial practice and business development roles. He created the first of its kind diversity and inclusion consulting practice, which he chairs at the firm and also serves as a member of the firm’s Partners Board, the global governing body of the firm.

Joe’s work over the years in these three areas has not gone unnoticed. The National Bar Association named him In-House Counsel of the Year, He received the TIM Award (The Incredible Man) from Ms. J.D.; NAMWOLF named him Most Outstanding Advisory Board Member; He has also been honored by The Black Entertainment and Sports Law Association (BESLA); MCCA and the ABA. The Delaware Barristers Association awarded him its third Lifetime Achievement Award, after DuPont GC Tom Sager and Vice President Joe Biden. He also serves on the ABA’s Council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which oversees law school accreditation and bar admissions; as well as the ABA Diversity 360 Commission and the Board of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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