Blogger Not Surprised that Black Lawyer was Hired as "Marketing Tool"

Heather Milligan, law firm marketing, marketing directorFormer associate Venus Yvette Springs, an African-American lawyer at Mayer Brown’s Charlotte, N.C., office has filed a Title VII discrimination suit that claims the law firm used her as a “marketing tool” before firing her in 2008.

So what? says Heather M. Milligan, Director of Marketing at Barger & Wolen in Los Angeles, and author of The Legal Watercooler. She derided  the claims in the lawsuit, saying, "I hate to break the news to anyone reading this: EVERY lawyer in the firm is a potential “marketing tool” for the marketing department."

Springs, a magna cum laude graduate of Duke Law School, alleges that when she was hired in 2007 there were only two other African-Americans at the firm’s Charlotte office and no others in the real estate practice group where she worked. (For a copy of the complaint, visit Above the Law).

“Springs was hired, in whole or in part, because the Charlotte office needed to increase its number of African-American attorneys,” the suit says. “Upon information and belief, firm documents refer to the hiring of an African-American as a ‘marketing tool.’ Springs was used as a marketing tool, asked to attend on behalf of Mayer Brown bar and other functions where diversity would be perceived as a positive.

Springs says she was fired despite high marks from her superiors in part to make way for a white female employee hired to bring in business from Bank of America. Above the Law reported that there were significant layoffs at Mayer Brown in November. Charlotte and New York were hit hard when the firm let go of 33 attorneys just before Thanksgiving. Mayer Brown said in a statement that they believe her claims have no merit.

"Grow up," Milligan wrote. "We’re all tools of the firm because we are part of the firm’s success or lack thereof (yes, even I am a tool of the firm). "I hate to break the news to anyone reading this: EVERY lawyer in the firm is a potential “marketing tool” for the marketing department.

  • You write well? I’m making you editor of the blog. Tool.
  • You speak well? You are off to that conference. Tool.
  • You present well? You are representing the firm at the exhibit hall table at the industry conference. Tool.
  • You social?? I’m sending you to any and every cocktail party, table of ten I need to fill. Tool.

"We all have a role to play. Those who embrace these roles will find success within the firm's political structure, and through their business development efforts. Those who reject it ... well, good luck finding a new job once your lawsuit hits the Internet."


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art - October 27, 2009 3:16 PM

Unfortunately, Heather Milligan shows us why with respect to equal opportunities and diversity at work, US companies so often take one step forward and two steps back.
The whole premise of Springs' grievance is calculated exploitation based on race/ethnicity, which one cannot change. So:
You write/speak/present well? You can stop and do something else ...
However, you're black? Mmmm, I guess I'll stop being black eh? Fact is, this attribute is immutable. The issue is one of control and not usefulness. As an employee you can control your usefulness, albeit at risk of being fired.
So, my main issue is not whether she wins the case or loses it, but my concern is the petty, parochial, callous attitudes of commentators and the wider implications involved....
I'm pretty sure if Milligan's firm asked or persuaded her to sleep with potential clients on basis of being a woman then fired her for refusing that she would go bee-lining for the nearest lawyer .... is it a legitimate TOOL? maybe i should start hiring women on this basis if so .... in which case I might have well found my first employee.
I hope Larry B is brave enough to post this.

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