Nolan N. Atkinson, Jr. (Philadelphia Diversity Law Group)

Nolan N. Atkinson, Jr. (Philadelphia Diversity Law Group)

2004 Rainbowmaker Award Winner

Mid-Atlantic Region

Nolan N. Atkinson, Jr.
Nolan N. Atkinson, Jr.

The "Rainbowmaker" Award was created by MCCA® to recognize exceptional lawyers whose leadership, courage, and commitment stand tall as advocates for a more diverse legal profession and who, through their advocacy, have sought to create rainbows of opportunity for others. This year's Rainbowmaker Award was presented to Nolan N. Atkinson, Jr., a partner and head of the commercial litigation practice group in the Philadelphia office of the law firm of Duane Morris, where he is also chairman of the diversity committee.

When Nolan Atkinson first began practicing law in the 1960s, the Philadelphia legal community was not very diverse. In fact, many large law firms resisted integrating, actively excluding all non-whites. But because Atkinson was never one to allow obstacles to deter him, he paved his own road to success. By so doing, he has helped others navigate their careers. Atkinson continuously remains visible in his commitment to diversity, and uses every opportunity to open doors for others who may want to emulate his success.

Even in the new millennium, Atkinson was frustrated at the slow pace at which large Philadelphia law firms were diversifying. This frustration inspired him to lead an initiative for an all-day diversity conference. The goal of the conference was to find ways to attract and retain diverse lawyers in Philadelphia, and it brought together managing partners of large Philadelphia law firms, their local corporate counsel clients, and minority partners who worked at these firms.

Following the conference, Atkinson was able to build a case for a permanent organization to advocate for diversity. In March 2001, Atkinson helped form the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group (PDLG), a consortium of law firms and corporations committed to increasing ethnic and racial diversity in Philadelphia's larger law firms. He is currently its chair.

Veta Richardson, MCCA; and Nolan N. Atkinson, Jr.
(L to R): Veta Richardson, MCCA; and Nolan N. Atkinson, Jr., Philadelphia Diversity Law Group

The PDLG established a summer diversity program to attract and recruit to Philadelphia first-year law students who have overcome substantial obstacles in pursuing their legal careers. This program has been a resounding success: In its first year, Philadelphia law firms and corporations selected a class of twelve first-year law students. Eight students worked at PDLG-member law firms, and the remaining four were hired by corporate members, including the legal department of Temple University.

At the conclusion of the first summer program, at least two-thirds of those 12 students were given job offers by PDLG members. In 2004, PDLG is expecting a much larger number of applications for next summer's program.

Along the road to his success, Atkinson became an experienced litigator in commercial matters, representing banks, insurance companies, and other businesses in major disputes. He has an extensive background in defending major corporations in product and toxic tort matters, and has represented numerous hospitals and physicians in complex health-related matters. He has taught trial advocacy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Temple University School of Law. He is also a former co-chair of the Conference of Minority Partners in Majority Corporate Law Firms, a subcommittee of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.

From the November/December 2004 issue of Diversity & The Bar®

Pin It on Pinterest