Ben Wilson Featured in National Law Journal's Cover Story on Diversity in the Legal Profession
Chairman Ben Wilson (Washington, DC) was featured on the cover of the January 2020 edition of the National Law Journal (NLJ) magazine as part of its cover story featuring the African American Managing Partners & General Counsel Network (AAMPGC).
The cover story, titled "The Vanguard and the Vision," highlights Ben's efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession through his founding of AAMPGC in 2009 (then the African American Managing Partners Network) as well as the Diverse Partners Network in 2008. One of the few African American major law firm Chairmen in the United States, Ben was named Chairman of B&D in 2017 following nine years as the firm's Managing Partner. The 2017 NLJ Lifetime Achievement Honoree has also been recognized for his leadership by numerous organizations and publications and has served as a Board member for organizations such as the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, the American Bar Association's Environmental Justice Committee, the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Ben is well-known in the legal community for using his leadership platform to lift others not only within the firm but also outside of it, with the formation of AAMPGC serving as a strong nucleus of support that connects attorneys of color and encourages their retention in the industry. AAMPGC started as a core group of six African American Managing Partners based in Washington, DC, gathering for quarterly dinners that doubled as informal strategy meetings. The group eventually reached out to Managing Partners and General Counsel around the country, hosting the first national meeting in 2012. Since 2013, AAMPGC hosts an invite-only dinner each year during the National Bar Association Annual Convention. Over 250 lawyers gathered at the 2019 dinner this July.
"We have power and we have strength and I hope we will use it to help each other," said Ben, estimating that he and other AAMPGC members have helped to connect and mentor thousands of attorneys over the years. "This is, in my view, our last clear chance to change the legal profession."
In a companion piece in the January 2020 edition titled "'A Leader Must Be Fearless': A Conversation With Ben Wilson," Ben sat down with NLJ Editor-in-Chief Lisa Helem to discuss his formative years, his legal heroes, and his path to success at B&D. He credits his parents with helping to fuel his academic curiosity despite the segregation of his youth in Jackson, Mississippi. His mother, a schoolteacher, kept him supplied with books, and after her death, his stepmother, a college professor and dean, continued to encourage his academic pursuits. "Control what you can control. Do your best. Prepare, prepare, prepare," Ben says of his mentality. "These are all things that my father taught us and that my mother embodied."
As for his motivation for entering the legal profession, he credits Donald Hollowell, who sued to integrate the University of Georgia resulting in the admission of the first two African American students; Wiley Branton, who represented the Little Rock Nine in the integration of Central High School; A.P. Tureaud, who integrated the schools in New Orleans; Fred Gray, who represented the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Constance Baker Motley, who represented James Meredith at the University of Mississippi and wrote the original complaint in Brown v. Board of Education.
Ben joined B&D as the firm's first black partner in 1986, and his wife Merinda became the first black woman partner at Sidley Austin. The pair, who met at Harvard Law, would support and encourage each other as well as friends at other firms who were also the first. "It was a little bit like the blind leading the blind," he notes of that early wave of black partners at major law firms. However, Ben prepared himself for leadership by learning from the example of the Freedom Riders, Medgar Evers, and James Meredith, who risked their lives to challenge segregation. "I resolved that if they could lead in life-threatening circumstances," he says, "surely I could lead a law firm."
Ben received the National Bar Association's Presidential Award in 2019, the National Association of Women Lawyers' Lead by Example Award and the United Negro College Fund's MASKED Award in 2018, the Washington Bar Association's Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Thurgood Marshall Legacy Award in 2016, the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession's Spirit of Excellence Award in 2014, ABA SEER's Dedication to Diversity and Justice Award in 2013, the National Bar Association Commercial Law Section's Outstanding Outside Counsel Award in 2010, and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs' Wiley Branton Award in 2009. He has additionally been featured in a number of magazines and legal ranking directories.
Ben currently serves as the Court-Appointed Monitor for the Duke Energy coal ash spill remediation project and the Deputy Monitor for Emissions & Environmental in the Volkswagen AG emissions proceedings. He is Chair of the Environmental Law Institute and a Fellow of the American College of Environmental Lawyers. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Environmental Law at the Howard University School of Law and co-founded the Howard Energy and Environmental Law Society. Ben currently sits on the Board of Directors at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Board of Trustees of Dartmouth College and has served as Chairman of the Environmental, Energy, and Public Utilities Law Section of the National Bar Association for over 30 years.