Accessing Leaders: How Harry Redmon’s Imaginative and prescient and Management At Phelps Created Persistent Pressures for Range and Inclusion – Company / Enterprise Law
Accessing Leaders: How Harry Redmon’s vision and leadership at Phelps created ongoing pressures for diversity and inclusion
August 27, 2021
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The legal profession is often viewed as less advanced than other industries when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately there is a story for it. 1980, only 8% of the country’s lawyers were women. Around the same time only 2.5% of US attorneys were non-white, and all are minorities still underrepresented in the legal profession. This was also the time when Harry Redmon became managing partner at Phelps. Forty years ago he saw this problem and wanted to get Phelps on a path to correct this inequality. He knew that to be a generation law firm, Phelps had to evolve with the generations, and that our lawyers had to reflect the communities we served.
Kickstart the pipeline to find diverse talent
Harry’s focus on recruiting various lawyers initially encountered some obstacles. When Harry contacted local law schools about a pipeline to Phelps, they told him that the firm’s reputation would not attract diverse candidates. Phelps had an environment that encouraged and supported diversity, but law students did not trust this claim because the type of attorneys currently with the firm did not reflect it. So Harry went to work to make Phelps a law firm where various lawyers could build a successful practice.
Harry shifted his recruiting focus from new lawyers to seasoned lawyers who were established and respected. He hoped that through the hiring and support of various lawyers whom he and the community admired and respect, the law school talent pipeline would follow suit.
After Harry achieved this goal, he turned his attention back to law schools. To ensure these types of barriers to entry never reappeared, he worked with Tulane’s Minority Clerkship Program to interview various students for the company’s Summer Associate Program each year. Many of the firm’s talented attorneys have been hired through this program.
Create a culture of diversity and inclusion
Bring Judge Reuben Anderson to Phelps was a milestone for Harry and began to strengthen the perception of Phelps as a versatile and inclusive workplace. When Reuben stepped down from the Mississippi Supreme Court, he decided to continue his career with Phelps. He said Harry was instrumental in that decision. To 15 years at the bank and a business career steeped in history, Reuben was impressed with Harry’s vision for the future of the company and wanted to join him. Reuben saw Harry as a leader who was “way ahead” of other law firms in the area, and he appreciated Harry’s hands-on approach to diversity. Harry wanted Phelps to expand to serve the entire Southeast, and as Reuben puts it, “He knew if the company was going to thrive it had to change, and change meant becoming more inclusive.”
Throughout the entire time Harry was managing partner, Reuben said that Harry always supported him in his practice and encouraged him to turn to other different lawyers. In the early 1990s, these new attorneys contributed to the Jackson office’s booming litigation practice. Reuben describes Harry as “a man of integrity who wanted to say what he thought” and “the kind of leader everyone got behind”. And even 30 years after joining Phelps, Rueben still believes he made the right choice.
partner In Alessandra reflects Rueben’s feeling. She chose Phelps because of the strength of Harry’s vision for the future of the company and her place in it. Nan describes him as “a five-star general with a masterful battle plan who convinced me he would succeed.” This is no surprise as Harry is a pilot and joined the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, where he served as the prosecutor until his release as captain in 1962 on a mission to diversify one of the oldest law firms in the South, a mission that Nan describes as “brave” and “ahead of its time”. Nan attributes the number of women and minority lawyers in the firm today to Harry’s design, which was made in the mid-1980s.
Phelps carried out Harry’s vision with a boot on the floor. To improve the firm’s diversity, she sought out the best and brightest in the legal community who had reached the peak of achievement, such as Judge Fred Banks, Kim Boyle and judges Freddie Pitcher. Nan said Harry made a concerted effort not only to recruit various candidates, but also to help them succeed at Phelps. He welcomed them and made them feel supported in expanding their practice and presence in the firm. Nan describes this support as mutual. Harry encouraged feedback. He asked her to tell him what she needed to be successful and then he would find the best way to provide those resources. At Phelps, Harry made sure that everyone was invited to the table, encouraged everyone to work together and created an atmosphere of community. He has sent a clear message through his actions that different lawyers are as much a part of Phelps as any other and that everyone contributes to the firm’s pursuit of excellence.
Lessons for business leaders to increase their DEI efforts
Phelps is where it is today, in part because of the choices Harry made in the 80s and 90s to drive diversity and inclusion across the company. He humbly shared the lessons he has learned from over 40 years on how other business leaders can make diversity a priority:
- Audit your pipeline and your business model. How do you recruit new, diverse talent? If you are unsure how to find candidates, check with your local schools and organizations. To attract new employees, you may also need to review your business model to make sure you are creating an environment that encourages diversity.
- Don’t take a cookie cutter approach to DEI. Set goals that fit your business model, and then find a way to achieve them. Trust your goal and vision and be accountable to them. Review and adjust your diversity and inclusion process and guidelines so you can stay updated as you meet your company’s DEI goals.
- Make a plan, then take action. Once you are ready to recruit and hire various candidates, don’t stop there. Inclusion is an important piece of the puzzle. Engaging, empowering, and bringing diverse candidates into leadership roles are effective ways to build a diverse and inclusive culture.
“Commit to your vision, know your surroundings, and be ready to adapt to achieve your goals,” Harry said. “Empowering capable leaders ensures that you will never lead alone and will increase the success of both your company and your employees.”
The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance on the subject. Expert advice should be sought regarding your specific circumstances.
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