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Quarles & Brady Takes Pride in Its Diverse Leadership

Milwaukee, WIS. – Founded in Milwaukee in 1892, Quarles & Brady LLP is the only AmLaw 200 firm that has been led by an African American, John W. Daniels Jr., for several years, followed by a woman, current firm chair Kimberly Leach Johnson.

For decades, the legal profession has been hearing and talking about a business case for diversity, but Quarles & Brady is one of a few firms, if not the only one, for which diversity has become part of its DNA. The firm’s achievement of an engrained culture of diversity and inclusiveness makes the business case and often sets Quarles apart from competitors as progressive, organizationally enlightened, even cutting-edge.

However, the firm’s leadership maintains that the result of its diversity mindset is an environment in which anyone can succeed, rather than an organization that intentionally promotes based on minority status.

“Quarles embraced diversity decades ago, and we soon learned that more diverse attorneys, contributing new experiences and perspectives as well as backgrounds to the partnership, enabled us to demonstrate to our clients that the firm was better positioned to help them solve legal problems,” said Daniels. “As Quarles began to benefit from that competitive advantage, top performers emerged without respect to race, gender, religion, sexual preference or other minority status.”

Forty years after Daniels joined the firm, the contributions of minority-status attorneys have transformed diversity from a social imperative to a profit opportunity, and the organization has stopped thinking of diversity as merely a moral ideal of fairness. Daniels joined Quarles & Brady in 1974 and later became its first African-American partner, but by 2007 he had steadily worked his way to the top of the organization and become the chairman of the firm. During his tenure at the firm’s helm, Quarles sustained its financial stability and even opened two new offices in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression. Daniels also led the firm through yet more fundamental changes to accommodate the demands of the 21st-century legal marketplace, and Quarles continues to grow more competitive in the industry as a result.

Now the firm’s chairman emeritus, Daniels works with fellow community leaders in citywide programs that will improve the lives of all Milwaukeeans, such as the “Milwaukee Succeeds” initiative, which is designed to improve the public school system. He has been identified as one of the most influential attorneys of color in the country by multiple industry groups and publications, and his client list is a “who’s who” of national and multinational corporations.

Similarly, Kimberly Leach Johnson, the current firm chair, is one of an equally scarce contingent of women to head a national law firm, but she began to assume the responsibilities of leadership years ago, and her ascension to chairmanship occurred as a matter of achievement and merit rather than any consideration of political correctness. In fact, she was surprised by the level of interest and attention in the media when her new role as firm chair was made public. It had not occurred to her that the position of firm chair represented a triumph of diversity or gender equality because the firm as a whole did not view it in that light.

Quarles & Brady’s culture of diversity permeates its leadership ranks. As of 2014, half of the firm’s eight offices are headed by diverse attorneys: Kathie Buono (Milwaukee), Ave Bie (Madison), Nicole Stanton (Phoenix) and Ted Yi (Chicago). Further inspection of the firm’s personnel files reveal a healthy level of all types of diversity across the ranks as well.

“We’ve pursued a host of programs over the years, designed to ensure that attorneys of all backgrounds receive all the support they need to succeed,” said Johnson. “We actively recruit at law schools with diverse populations. We also join with clients to make diversity a priority, and demand similar attention from our own suppliers. We don’t claim to be unique in our pursuit of diversity, but somewhere along the way, it became simply natural to us.”

Despite the cultural norm of diversity within Quarles & Brady, recruitment of diverse attorneys remains a challenge. Competition for the best and brightest law school graduates is fierce, and even more so for attorneys of color, women, LGBT graduates and other diverse candidates. While a culture of diversity may be more natural to the firm than most of its competitors, the interest in recruiting diverse attorneys is no less intense anywhere.

Quarles realizes that, like many of its fellow law firms, it still isn’t “diverse enough.” The hunt for talent of every background continues, and Quarles remains vigorous in ongoing efforts to create and maintain an even playing field for women and diverse lawyers. Its diversity programming is calculated to eliminate inequalities so that all of its attorneys can be equally successful. The firm hopes that ethos will help to make it even more diverse.