Antoinette Hubbard, DE&I Leader at Corporate Law Firm, Discusses Business Case for Advancing Diversity Efforts in the Legal Profession
In this episode of On Record PR, Sarah Larson goes on record with Antoinette Hubbard, diversity and inclusion director at the national law firm Maron Marvel Bradley Anderson & Tardy and a senior member of the firm’s Delaware Asbestos Litigation Team.
About Antoinette Hubbard
You could say that Antoinette has been around the world and back.
She is the second child of four and was raised by parents who lacked many educational opportunities. They instilled in her a love of learning and the belief that with hard work, she could achieve the goals that she set for herself.
She was born and raised in Philadelphia and attended college and law school in the Greater Philadelphia area. She married her college sweetheart and moved to Boston, where they lived for 12 years. Both of their daughters were born in Boston, so although she is from Philly, she has a special place in her heart for Boston.
She and her family moved to Ghana where her husband is from and lived there for five years. When they returned to the U.S., they moved to the Philadelphia area to be near her family.
At Maron Marvel, Antoinette has extensive experience in the defense of complex product liability and toxic tort matters and has successfully defended personal injury cases, including wrongful death and severe impairment claims, and numerous commercial cases in both federal and state courts.
Sarah Larson: Welcome to the show, Antoinette.
Antoinette Hubbard: Thank you for having me.
Sarah Larson: Thank you for coming. We appreciate your time.
Tell our listeners a little I have a bit more about Maron Marvel.
Maron Marvel is a firm with at its founding office in Wilmington, Delaware. But, since its founding about 25 years ago it has expanded its geographical footprint. We now have offices in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, also have some southern offices in Mississippi, one in Houston, one in Dallas, Texas. Also an office in Charlestown in South Carolina, and we have Midwestern offices in Chicago, and also St. Louis.
Our original focus is on toxic tort litigation, but we also do general liability, some commercial work, as we’re situated in Delaware, which is well known for its corporate law. And we provide services to clients both large and small. We coordinate national litigation for a number of Fortune 500 companies, as well as represent local businesses and insurance companies.
Sarah Larson: You guys really have had some explosive growth over the last five to six years. I know we’ve been working with the firm in various capacities over those years and watching you grow has been really, really enjoyable and rewarding for us. So, congratulations definitely on the success of the firm overall.
I understand that the firm was really well-positioned from a technology standpoint to whether the impositions that came on us overnight last year during the pandemic. How did that come about, and how is remote work working for you guys now?
Yes. At its founding, James (Jim) Maron, our chairman and one of our founding members, wanted to envision a firm that was able to manage litigation not only nationally, but in a very efficient way, and provide platform for case management that lawyers could have their case files at the fingertips, so to speak. There was some proprietary technology developed in that regard.
The great attribute with that is that virtual program could be accessed by clients, so they too would have at their fingertips a means to take an aerial view of litigation transnationally. And then also be able to look into an individual case and have those pleadings and other pertinent material available wherever one might be. As you know, lawyers are often traveling to get cases prepared, or witnesses are everywhere. It’s a great asset to be able to access files wherever you may be.
When the COVID emergency hit, we were uniquely situated in order to work remotely. So, within the week of the emergency orders being issued, our various offices went to a remote format, and we were able to seamlessly keep our clients’ matters well managed, and move forward with our caseloads as necessary.
I know there were some other firms that were not really situated, and it took some time for them to make that transition to remote work. Or having the means to continue with their work without schlepping back and forth as far as getting files and the like. So, we were prepared and very thankful for the vision of our founding members’ focus on technology so that we were able to continue with our client responsibilities seamlessly.
Sarah Larson: And it really was visionary. This was many years before the legal profession really had begun adopting technology. I know that, as you mentioned, Jim and some of the others developed some proprietary technology that was, looking back now, was definitely ahead of its time, probably gave you guys-
Antoinette Hubbard: Right. This was decades ago.
Obviously it’s been fine-tuned, and expanded, and improved as the years went by. But we and our clients, I believe, benefited immensely from having that in place. And everyone being proficient in the technology so that we were able to not miss a beat, so to speak.
Sarah Larson: That’s great. And it certainly happened overnight, so being position for that was really very great. One of the other things that you focus on there a Maron Marvel and what I think we’re going to focus mostly on today in our conversation is DE&I, and some of the efforts going on in the legal sphere and within your firm regarding diversity, equity and inclusion.
I know you’ve been a leader in this forefront, and I believe your call planners, correct, were honored for your work on putting together the Bar Association conference?
Yes. I’ve served on the Diversity Summit Subcommittee of the Minority Attorney’s Committee of the Pennsylvania Bar Association for the last nearly a decade now. This year with COVID, and quite frankly I’m number of the recent events highlighting some problems with racial inequity, we focused on having a virtual summit. Which not only touched on topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but drilled really down as to why the work is important, why the concepts are important. Not only in the legal profession, but in the wider society.
And best practices, giving people an opportunity to share their experiences and brainstorm as to next steps within our respective organizations to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. The Pennsylvania Bar Association gives annual awards to individuals and committees, and the Diversity Summit received an acknowledgment by the president this past year for the summit, which was held last fall.
Sarah Larson: Well, congratulations on that.
Talk a little bit about how, and you referenced this a little bit earlier, but how the attention given to DE&I in the legal profession, and the concept of justice and injustice has changed over the time that you’ve been involved, but I would think most certainly over the last couple years.
Yes. Let’s see, well I started my practice, I’m not shy about my age, I’m thankful for each year I have. I was first licensed in 1984, and it was a time where a lot of particularly women were just entering the profession. But we were still a novelty, and racial minorities were still far and few between. While, I would say, people were concerned in attracting as diverse pool of applicants as they could, knowing it was the future and the fair thing to do, I think the first generation work was very different in that people were focused on getting folks into the door.
Things have evolved now that we’ve had a number of decades under belt as far as the legal profession, and digging a little deeper as to what the dynamics are as far as impediments for people who are traditionally underrepresented in the profession from entering it. And then also, how do you keep and retain people from diverse backgrounds within your organizations?
I’ve reviewed a number of studies with regard to my work in this area for the firm. And while there’s been improvement as far as numbers, when you get to the upper echelon as far as power within legal organizations, the progress has been muted or not as dramatic. It’s well studied that there is an attrition of a lot of women from the profession, particularly from private firms, and also particularly people of color who may join private firms, but leave to go in-house, or to practice with governmental organizations.
So, the American Bar Association (ABA) has done a lot of studies, has a working group on this issue, and things have evolved such that people are focusing on, “Okay, everyone knows the Golden rule, do onto others, and we were taught that by our parents.” But beyond that, making the business case that people who are in diverse groups tend to make better decisions than those who are not in diverse groups, because of groupthink.
The ABA and other organizations have studied, what’s the next level of effort? Which means not only do you want to have diverse teams and diverse communities, diverse working groups, what do you need to do to have equity and inclusion? You will see there’s been an evolution from focus on diversity alone to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Equity is noting that people are coming from different backgrounds, so what you’re going to do when you invite people into your organization is meet them where they are, and provide the support that they need, and not treat everyone as a cookie-cutter… or, not take a cookie-cutter approach, and approach everyone as if they’re coming with a blank slate.
- Inclusion is making sure that people are fully provided the opportunities within the organization to thrive. And that’s part of the equity piece, is knowing the differences, so that you can provide opportunities and space for people to thrive. Inclusion is that goal where you have everyone fully engaged, being their full selves, not having to departmentalized when they come to work, so that they can provide their best effort and the best perspective.
Because from those different perspectives and life experiences, you get a richness, and an ability to make decisions from different standpoints. That’s especially important for law firms, because we make our cases through people, as in witnesses. As litigators, we convince people of the rightness of our clients’ respective positions by being able to talk and present to people from different backgrounds with different perspectives. So, if you have a narrow view, you may miss a point that may be appealing to someone different from you, or more convincing.
Sarah Larson: I’m so glad to hear you make that business case. Because sometimes I feel like we’re still making that argument. I still feel in some corners there are people who still are approaching this as diversity, like, “I’m checking boxes.” That’s really not the point. The point is that the more minds you have to create solutions, the better those solutions are going to be.
Antoinette Hubbard: Yes, that’s very so. And we’re dealing in a global world.
Sarah Larson: Yes.
Antoinette Hubbard: So it might be comfortable if you were in your little corner of the universe to engage, just stay in your cocoon. That’s not possible now. Nor is it desirable if you really want to excel in whatever you’re doing. The competency or ability to talk with, relate to people from different backgrounds, experiences, be it sexual orientation, gender, education.
The gamut is a gift, and it’s a skill that if you want to succeed and I would say any endeavor, and if you want to be a good human being, if we want to break it down to its basics, that you need to be focused on and hone… Studies show that it’s human nature to gravitate to people who are like you. What we do internally with our diversity, equity, and inclusion programming is stressed disrupting that unconscious bias that you might have, because this person went to the same school, so you assume, “Oh, that person must be brilliant, because we share that.” Or from this geographical area, so therefore this person’s going to have a good perspective, or correct perspective.
Just to disrupt that, and it helps you to hone those, I call it… as we exercise our physical muscles, you have to exercise those muscles to disrupt looking at things very narrowly. And then when you open up, people who are on your team, that builds trust within your working groups. People are free to contribute as best they can without self editing. Again, all to everyone’s benefit. And it’s obviously a more positive place in which to work and thrive.
So, if the case needs to be made, that’s the basic common-sense case, that each organization should focus on this as a core competency to do business, or practice law, or teach, etc, within the modeling world.
In the legal arena specifically over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of talk in the news about clients’ in-house counsel demanding some of these benchmarks. Like, “We want our legal teams to look more like our company, and the people that work on our teams, and the customers we serve.” Where do clients fit into this as far as helping to raise that bar?
That’s very much the case. In fact, if you look at some of the studies by profession, finance, engineering, etc., a lot of businesses are light years ahead as far as the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. It may be because they earlier on were dealing with a global paradigm. Their competitors, they had to be compared to engage across the world, and not in a small geographical area.
Law firms are evolving in that as we observe… I would say in the 70s, it was unheard of to have a law firm that had an office other than one major city where it was situated. It might have that suburban office. But now, beginning in the 80s, that paradigm changed. You now, as you know, have mega firms.
So, I think part of it is that business is leaning in some sense, because they’ve reached that point earlier. They’re dealing with larger groups of people, larger geographical areas in which they apply their trade or engage in business. I think because of that, they realize that they have to be able to, not only is it the right thing to do, but to be the best organizations that they can be, they need to attract and retain a diverse set of folks.
How does this all fit in with the concept of intersectionality when it comes to the sphere of diversity engagement? How does that all come together?
I feel uniquely situated to talk of those issues, being an African-American woman. When I started out in practice, I saw a lot of siloing. They were women’s issues, there were minority attorneys issues. And there is space, and there’s importance to have that. Because people do get reenergized, get support from people who are sharing similar issues to the issues that they’re navigating in order to advance in their respective careers.
But, the siloing can also have a negative effect. And as we’re learning about the importance of having allies within the majority group who traditionally holds power, it’s important to understand that some people bring their full selves. So, I don’t cut myself out as, “Oh, this is my black self versus my female self.” I bring my full self.
Sarah Larson: Versus my lawyer self, versus my mother self.
Antoinette Hubbard: Right.
So, that intersectionality, again, is that full inclusion, knowing that there are some issues that are going to be common there are some issues that are going to be different. But each demographic group needs to be able to relate to each other, and be open. Again, it’s all about being open to the views and hearing and appreciating and empathizing with the experiences of people who are different from you.
I think being a minority woman and starting off really early in a career, I was acutely aware where there was often a disconnect. And I think, positively, the younger generation appreciates, “Oh, well I’m having this issue, but my friend who’s gender nonconforming is having an issue as well, which is a little different. But if we support each other, we can move the organization further along.” Or, make society a more positive thing to be. So, the intersection analogy focuses on, again, is taking people as their full selves.
As you were talking about earlier, you don’t want to put people in boxes, check, check, check. Life doesn’t work that way. People are complicated. They come from… I’m a first-generation lawyer too, so my perspective may be different. Even though I encounter another African-American attorney, if her parents were lawyers, her life experience is going to be different from mine, and the perspectives will differ in some respects.
It’s appreciating that, knowing that no one group’s a monolith. And between the various groups, we all share some commonalities. And if you appreciate those intersections, it’s a further means of supporting each other to excel, to advance, and I think also to have a healthier society.
Sarah Larson: Absolutely.
What kinds of changes are you seeing over the generations, as younger lawyers come into the profession, and where does the concept of mentoring, and walking along with them in their growths, how to those all come together?
Well, I’m pleased to see that the younger lawyers that are coming in have a very strong sense of self. And maybe the parroting of that generation. But they know who they are. I know as a female attorney in the early 80s, we felt the need to try to be lockstep with our male counterparts. So, you really didn’t talk about home, you didn’t talk about are you going to have children or not, that type of thing. And that whole dynamic of people talking about mommy track, that was very prevalent in the 80s, when I started my career.
Now, I think with years having passed, and female attorneys having excelled in many different respects, people are bringing their full selves to work. It’s not just attorneys, but I think business wise, we now have, apparently there’s not a presumption that young fathers are not going to be taking some time off when they have a new child or adopt a child.
There have been improvements over the last few decades, I’m happy to note. So, that’s a positive. I think mentorship is very necessary in any profession or any endeavor. Once you finish, particularly law school, you’re admitted to practice, but then you learning begins again. And how is it to excel as a lawyer to practice law as opposed to taking courses about the law?
Mentorship is essential. I had in my career, very early on, great mentors who took me under her wing. We were not alike as far as background, but that was invaluable for my advancement, my development as a lawyer. And is important even more so today, practices going at the speed of light because of emails, and very different. Everything’s fast, and hurry up.
Yet, I think it’s still important for younger lawyers to have access to continual mentorship. I like to call it organic mentorship, in that if you’re working with someone young, the focus should be in their development as well as the tasks at hand. If you do that, you not only have a better worker or colleague, more productive associate or a young attorney, but you also have, again, a more positive work environment, you build that trust.
And it’s a great sense of fulfillment, personally to me, if I know by working with someone who’s newer to the profession, I have contributed to their improvement in whatever they’re setting out to do.
As the younger attorneys evolve more in their practice, as the older leaders sometimes of huge law firms retire, we’re starting to see shifts and law firms of all sizes, asking themselves what their place is in the concept of the business community, and social justice, and what shall we be standing for? Should we be standing for anything? Do you see those concepts of business and social justice coming together more in the future, or still kind of trying to find their way?
I think we’re still trying to find our way. But I am mindful that the generation coming up has grown up with community service requirements, from high schools, if not middle schools. Certainly high school community service requirements. So, most enter the profession with that as a given. And they want to know not only what is the standing of the firm as far as the type of work or clients you have. The type of work you do or the clients you have.
But also opportunities for pro bono. Also when major issues come up, such as criminal justice equity, or stopping bigotry or racial violence, where do you stand? And I think that’s the same with, we’ve found over the past two years, with the US business communities. Workers want to know not only that they’re creating the best widget, but also that they’re aligned with an organization that is concerned with the health and equity of the greater society.
So, I think as we progress I think presently, and as we progress, people will look at what you’re doing in a charitable way, or what organizations your firm or business decides to support as one of those, “Do I want to stay here with you? Am I thriving? Is this my home? It is my business home? Or is this my legal home?”
As part of my function as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director, I get to interview young candidates for various positions. And people, that’s one of the questions they have, what do you do? I would like an opportunity. Or, I am already involved in X, do you accommodate that?
And most firms, traditionally, encourage involvement in bar associations. That’s the normal route of giving back. But I think as things evolve, a lot of firms also celebrate being a good citizen within the community. I certainly know Maron Marvel appreciates that, and we credit our attorneys for work they do outside of client matters that helped to contribute to a more positive society.
Sarah Larson: Last wrap up question for you today. We could keep talking forever. I love talking about these issues.
Is the PBA going to be putting on another Summit this fall, do you know?
What we do is we alternate. We do every other year.
Sarah Larson: Every other year, okay.
Antoinette Hubbard: There is another conference that takes place in the fall this year, so we will be doing one in 2022.
Part of that is so that you have time to really plan, attract speakers from around the country. I know one year we had someone in from the NAACP who was involved in some major civil rights litigation. So, we do it biannually, so that we are able to plan accordingly, and it doesn’t just become, “Oh, here’s another CLE that you might be interested in.
Sarah Larson: The annual conference you go listen to for a day, and then go back and nothing changes.
Antoinette Hubbard: Yeah, we like to do a deeper dive.
If our listeners want to get in touch with you and talk about how they can adopt some of these best practices for their own firms, or if they just want to follow up with you, what’s a good way for someone to get in contact with you?
Well, they can reach me via my email address, Maron Marvel, you can check the website, each of our attorneys have our addresses listed in the website for easy access, so feel free to shoot me an email. Kind of a dinosaur in that way. I’m also on LinkedIn, so if you search for Antoinette Hubbard at Maron Marvel, I’m on LinkedIn as well.
Sarah Larson: All right, that’s great. Thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it, and we look forward to talking to you again.
Antoinette Hubbard: Thank you.
Learn More & Connect
Learn more about Antoinette Hubbard
Learn more about Sarah Larson
Listen to more episodes of On Record PR
For DE&I resources, please visit our Diversity, Inclusion, Equity & Anti-Racism Resource Center.