“Diversity in the practice of law is of paramount importance to me.”

Name: Benjamin F. Wilson

Title: Chairman

Company: Beveridge & Diamond P.C.

Beveridge & Diamond P.C.

Sonya:  When did you first realize that you wanted to become an attorney? What first drew you to a career as an attorney? What do you enjoy most about your career now?

Benjamin: ​I grew up in the 1950s and 60s in Jackson, Mississippi. This was the advent of the modern civil rights era. I came to know and read about civil rights lawyers like Wiley Branton, who represented the Little Rock Nine; A. P. Tureaud, who brought the case which resulted in the integration of the public schools in New Orleans; and Constance Baker Motley, who represented James Meredith when he was integrating Ole Miss. They were lawyers of extraordinary courage. I wanted to be like them.

What I enjoy most about my career now is the ability to have a positive impact on young attorneys. Diversity in the practice of law is of paramount importance to me. I enjoy facilitating opportunities for diverse attorneys.

Sonya: Have there been specific people (real or fictional) or pivotal situations/events that have inspired you, helped shape your career?

Benjamin: I began going away to school in Massachusetts in the 9th Grade. My mother died when I was 15. Perhaps my greatest regret is that I did not excel academically at my new school until after my mother’s death. I wanted her to be proud of me. It was important to her that I use my God-given talents to help others. For this reason, whenever someone calls on me for assistance, I can hear the echo of my mother’s voice. And I want to help.

Sonya: Are there particular traits that you believe successful attorneys share? Traits that you believe you have yourself and which you look for in hiring for your firm?

Benjamin: I believe strongly that the most important quality for any person, irrespective of their profession, is resilience. The harsh reality is that bad things sometimes happen to good people. Life is not always fair. The ultimate challenge is not what happens to you in life, but rather how you choose to respond to it. When I am facing my most difficult challenges, I call upon my faith to summon resilience.

Sonya: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? What would you like your legacy to be in your law firm? In the legal profession?

Benjamin: I cannot point to a single professional accomplishment of which I am most proud. I was proud of the work I did at the Department of Justice early on in my career, which was related to Medicare fraud and reimbursement for poor people. I am proud of the case I brought successfully while in private practice on behalf of a little girl living in a public housing project in the District of Columbia who was poisoned by lead paint chips. I am proud of the wrongful death action I brought on behalf of the widow and four children of a deaf student choked to death by campus police officers at Gallaudet University. I am proud of the work we have done at the Environmental Law Institute to bring the Rule of Law to solving environmental issues in this country and around the world. I am proud of the work I have done with the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs to help ensure adequate resources for students in the District of Columbia Public Schools. I am proud of the work I have done as the Monitor in the Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill matter and as the Deputy Monitor in the Volkswagen Dieselgate matter. In each of these cases, I worked collaboratively with others to achieve a good result.

I hope my legacy to my law firm and the legal profession is that of a person who fought for diversity and fairness in the profession. It is my fondest hope that our work with the Diverse Partners Network, the African American General Counsel Network, and the African American Managing Partners Network will continue long after I am gone.

Sonya: Have you had mentors/sponsors? Have you acted as a mentor/sponsor to others? Is mentorship/sponsorship important? How? Why?

Benjamin: I have had a number of mentors whose example inspired me: Dennis Archer, Ron Brown, Vinny Cohen, John Daniels, Vernon Jordan, and Larry Thompson, among others.

However, my greatest mentor and advisor is my wife, Merinda. She is the finest attorney I have ever known. Smart, tough, cool under pressure, possessed of an iron will and a loving heart.

I have acted as a mentor/sponsor to others. Mentorship / sponsorship is important. There is an old blues song which notes: “Into every life, a little rain must fall.” All most every day I speak with a young person, a middle-aged person, or older person who is about to give up. She is about to wave the white flag of surrender. He is about to throw in the towel. They have lost a job, lost a spouse, lost a home and all but given up hope. It is at that time that I seek to intercede and suggest a different outcome. I urge them not to give up and I offer the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;”  In our firm, I have sought to provide meaningful work opportunities for African American attorneys. I believe this has been helpful in their promotion to Shareholder (Partner) in our law firm.

I cannot begin to tell you how gratifying it is to speak with this same person weeks, months, or years later, and see the success they are enjoying. It is even more gratifying when they have chosen to share this message of faith and hope with others. I hope in some small way I have been helpful.

Sonya Olds Som & Benjamin F.Wilson

Sonya Olds Som & Benjamin F.Wilson

I have had numerous sponsors who have supported me in my career by choosing to utilize me and my firm:

Valerie Lewis and Juliette Pryor at Albertsons, Inc., Chonda Nwamu at Ameren, Marianela Peralta at Allegis Global Solutions, LaTanya Langley at BIC International, Avion Benjamin and Kenyatta Stewart at the City of Newark, Rodney Pratt at Converse, Laurie Robinson Haden at Corporate Counsel Women of Color (CCWC), Brian Ellis at Danaher, Carlos Brown of Dominion, Ken Slaughter of DCHA, Marc Battle, Henderson Brown, Randy Hayman, and Avis Russell at DC Water, Deirdre Stanley at Estee Lauder International, Inc., Kim Cunningham, Ron Curtis, Ruth Ivory-Moore, Sensimone Williams at Exxon Mobil, Carline Durocher at The Forsyth Institute, Ama Romaine at G6 Hospitality, John Page of Golden State Foods, Courtney Collins at Harman, Norma Leftwich at Howard University, Kellye Walker at Huntington Ingalls Industries, Denise Cade at IDEX Corp., Tiffanee Wade-Henderson at International Paper, Kelvin Sellers at Interstate Batteries, Chad Walker at Morton Salt, Amber Lee Williams at L Brands, Inc., Robert Grey at Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), Kirkland Hicks at Lincoln Financial, Maryanne Lavan at Lockheed Martin, James Grasty at Merck, April Miller Boise at Meritor, Dorothy Capers at National Express Corporation, Mark Hickson, Ashley Pinnock, and Charles Sieving at NextEra Energy, Victoria Stewart at Nokia Siemens Network, Vanessa Sutherland at Norfolk Southern, Jillian Joseph at Nuveen, Bobby Owens at OCI Beaumont, Carolyn Tillman at Occidental, Kimberly Chainey at Panasonic, Donna Cooper at PEPCO, Adrienne Brown at PepsiCo/Frito Lay, Robbie Narcisse at Pitney Bowes, Jim Breedlove at Praxair, Ingrid Hackett at Quantum Spatial Inc., Avis Russell, Marcia St. Martin and now Yolanda Grinstead at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, Gil Cubia at REV Group, Inc., Cisselon Hurd, Tonya Lewis, Kim Phillips, and Carita Walker at Shell, Andrea Wilson at Smiths Detection, Mark Darrell at Spire, Denice Simon at Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc., Toni Ellington at Tronox, LLC, Maureen Dunn at TVA, Rhonda Ferguson at Union Pacific, Michael Allen, Phyllis Harris and later Joe West, Rick Leahy, and Robert Williams at Walmart, Beverly Burke, Karen Hardwick, and Leslie Thornton at Washington Gas, Rod Boggs at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Barry Caldwell at Waste Management, Stephanie Jones of WEA Enterprises, and Elizabeth Joyner at The Williams Companies.

Sonya: Think about the legal profession over the course of the next 10 years. What do you see as the big changes that are coming which you believe will most significantly impact the profession and the role of the outside counsel?

Benjamin: There will always be room for the good judgment of fine lawyers. Nonetheless, technology is having an immeasurable impact on the practice of law. Barry White reminded us “Technology has gone stone mad. If you miss this, that’s tough to bear.” The successful lawyer of the future will make herself/himself indispensable and will become virtually imbedded with their client.

Sonya: Describe a significant challenge you have faced in your life or career. How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?

Benjamin: ​ The death of my mother at age 15 was the most difficult challenge of my life. I focused on achieving the lofty goals I knew she wanted for me. I worked hard. I studied hard. I competed hard. In terms of what I learned from this challenge, I came to understand that it is the difficulties of life which reveal our true character. Stripped of all pretense, one has no choice other than to sink or swim. I chose to swim.

Sonya: What does Diversity & Inclusion mean to you? How important is D&I to you personally? To your law firm? What advice do you have for lawyers seeking to make a positive impact on the progress of D&I in their organizations and in the legal profession?

Benjamin: ​Diversity & Inclusion means a great deal to me. It is important to our law firm. It has permitted us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. It has also helped us attract talented diverse lawyers and thereby field a stronger team. My advice to other lawyers seeking to make a positive impact on the progress of D&I in their organizations and in the legal profession is to be authentic. Be honest. Be direct. Be you. And always find a way to support others and provide them with meaningful opportunities to grow.

Sonya: If you were not a lawyer at your firm (or at any law firm, or even a lawyer at all), what career do you think you would most like to pursue?

Benjamin: My mother wanted a minister. However, I did not feel I was suited for that line of work. My not so secret passion is history. I would have liked to have been a teacher and a coach. 

Sonya: Knowing what you know now about being a lawyer, if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? At what point in your past would you give yourself that advice?

Benjamin: My advice would be not to wait for the “right” time to do something daring. One need not be a certain age to make her/his mark. Martin Luther King, Jr. was 26 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Thurgood Marshall was 27 when he brought the lawsuit on behalf of Donald Murray to integrate the law school at the University of Maryland. Fred Gray was 24 when he represented Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. Wilma Rudolph, the “Black Gazelle”, was 20 when she won three Gold Medals at the Rome Olympic Games. Barack Obama was 43 years old when he became a United States Senator.

My advice about not waiting for the “right” time has always been timely in my life.

I would also urge that one maintain a connection with your family and a connection with your faith. At various times in your career, others will question your worth and you may even question yourself about the value of your life. Family, friends, and faith help remind us that we all have a purpose greater than ourselves.

Sonya: Tell me something fun about yourself. A personal skill or hobby that, while not directly related to your day job, that you feel makes you more well-rounded, helps you be better at your day job, and/or helps relax and focus you to do your job better.

Benjamin: I exercise regularly. My knees limit me to the elliptical and some light weight lifting and pushups. For a period of two hours, I can forget my worldly cares and prepare myself for the coming day. Physical strength and stamina are assets in the competitive practice of law.

Sonya: Hashtag/Brand yourself in 5 words or less (For example, mine is #SelfiesWithSonya 😊 )

Benjamin: #resilient