About Thomas L. Sager
MCCA Establishes an Award to Recognize A Champion of Change
by Dana Mayer
For more than two decades, DuPont has worked to achieve a stronger, more equitable balance of race, ethnicity and gender throughout the organization. Like environmental stewardship or on-the-job safety, the company has made diversity a corporate value — and driven it into every segment of its operation, from recruiting to training to professional development.
In DuPont’s legal department, Senior Vice President and General Counsel Tom Sager is a driving force for improving the hiring, retention, promotion, and involvement of minorities and women. Sager helped pioneer DuPont’s Convergence and Law Firm Partnering Program and continues oversight of the program today. Through his leadership, the DuPont Legal Model has received national acclaim for infusing business principles into the practice of law.
And one of the founding principles of the Legal Model is diversity, valued for the way it improves the quality of legal solutions and the creative results of legal teams.
Sager’s vigilance helped create a growing awareness that the juries, customers, and policy makers that the company dealt with were growing in diversity at a faster pace than its workforce. The disparity impacted the company’s ability to effectively connect with increasingly diffuse segments of the business world and to reach them on intellectual, emotional and personal levels.
"Diversity is more than the right thing to do," Sager explains, "it’s good for business. Our ability to connect with deal makers, politicians and juries must be better than our competitors."
Consequently, when the DuPont Legal function undertook a major program in 1992 to select preferred providers of legal services, Sager kept diversity considerations at the forefront of the process.
Four criteria established who would become the primary law firms. Each prospective firm was asked to demonstrate a commitment to forging a long-term strategic business alliance; to employing new technologies; to using alternative fee structures; and — equally important — to hiring, retaining and actively involving minorities and women in the firm’s representation of DuPont.
Determined to share with the primary law firms more than just legal matters, Sager emphasized that he wanted service providers to share its corporate values as well. The diversity criterion was integral to the new DuPont Legal Model — and to the entire partnering program. It was not an afterthought, devised simply as an add-on social service. Nor was it to be strictly a matter of increasing numbers.
Diversity in the legal ranks was crucial to maintaining a competitive advantage as a corporate legal department.
Although such initiatives are often accompanied by sharp criticism and compelling financial and political pressures, Sager says the short-term discomfort is offset by the long-term benefits. "Driving diversity ensures that the best-suited, most competent counsel handle all DuPont matters — and ensures that we can successfully contend with a business environment that is increasingly global and decreasingly dominated by the traditional white male hierarchy."
Instead of imposing mandates and quotas, Sager and the DuPont Legal Model team found ways that DuPont could take an active role in creating solutions.
A critical area in need of improvement was recruitment at the law firms. To enhance the outside firm’s recruitment efforts, DuPont Legal organized a Minority Job Fair in 1994.
Marion Tucker, former director of the ABA’s Commission on Opportunities for Minorities, described the effort as the nation’s first corporate minority legal job fair. The fair presented students with an unmatched opportunity to meet representatives from the primary law firms and be interviewed for both summer and permanent positions.
Corporate Legal Times recognized the creativity of the initiative by honoring DuPont Legal with its 1994 Award for Distinguished Legal Service. Such positive response encouraged the transformation of the DuPont Minority Job Fair from a one-time event into an annual affair that has expanded across the country and today includes additional sponsors. The three job fairs held in 1997 drew over (750) student applications, with at least (12) offers extended to students. Internally, Sager and the Legal function also promote diversity through a variety of efforts. The intellectual property group recently recruited and hired four minority corporate counsel, a success due in large part to the efforts of Hinton Lucas. Lucas previously served DuPont as associate general counsel and now concentrates on diversity in a new position for personnel relations.
Other efforts include an exclusive contract with The Wallace Law Registry to meet DuPont Legal’s employment needs for both temporary and permanent lawyers. As part of the arrangement, DuPont tasked Wallace with developing and maintaining a nationwide minority legal assistant and lawyer database, accessible to DuPont Legal, its primary law firms and other Wallace clients.
In recognition of these and many other efforts, MCCA presented DuPont Legal with the 1997 Diversity 2000 Award. DuPont’s General Counsel, Howard Rudge says "efforts to improve diversity have come from many people throughout the Legal function. Tom and his people have kept this issue moving.
Through his leadership, our outside law firms understand hiring and retaining minorities is a top priority. Just watch our video about improving cultural competency and you can see for yourself that we do more than mouth the words."
The idea for the video originated with Sager and the Law Firm/Supplier Diversity Task Force. In 15 high-impact minutes it makes the case to DuPont firms to recruit, retain, and promote minority and female attorneys and identifies resources for those who are not certain what to do next.
Sager’s relentless commitment to increasing diversity in the legal profession — despite competing interests and mounting cynicism — is why MCCA created the "Thomas L. Sager Award." Given to inspire others to move beyond lip-service and to create meaningful solutions, the Sager Award will recognize leaders who support MCCA and the Pioneers of the Profession.
Says Veta Richardson, Executive Director of MCCA, "Tom Sager typifies the kind of commitment MCCA wants to encourage — leadership by example and a deep, consistent sense of responsibility for creating results. The award will be given to those who carry on that spirit." MCCA created the award to help others learn how to overcome the obstacles often encountered in trying to change the status quo.
The MCCA board of directors recognizes that the subject of "corporate counsel of color" often evokes a range of reactions that stall even the best of efforts. At one end of the spectrum, boredom and skepticism can slow progress by creating inertia; at the other end, reactions like hopelessness and resistance are often more debilitating.
"All too often, people excuse themselves from having to make a commitment to working with minorities by saying, ‘We can’t do anything about diversity, we can’t find any candidates!’" Richardson explains. "Recognizing their frustration, this award is one way we can help show them possibilities.