In 2016, for the first time, female students outnumbered male students in American law schools. Yet that distribution is not yet reflected in the litigation world, said Susan Bassford Wilson, a partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete.
“Walk into any courtroom, and I can almost guarantee you 70 percent of the lawyers will be Caucasian males,” Wilson said. “Every time I see that, it bothers me.”
Her awareness of diversity (and lack thereof) makes her a good match for Constangy, where women and people of color make up 55 percent of the attorney roster and 43 percent of its partners. Wilson has been on the firm’s diversity council for about five years, and one of the aspects of the firm she finds hopeful for the future is the make-up of the associates coming up the ranks: about one-third are minorities and two-thirds are women.
Yet Wilson said she also appreciates how the firm’s hiring patterns are more than an attempt to “bump up the numbers.”
“At Constangy,” she said, “those attorneys are office heads, they’re practice-group heads, they’re assigned significant roles in litigation.”
Wilson herself was allowed to flourish early. In 2014, she conceived of a new kind of practice group: eLaw. Constangy is a management-side labor and employment law firm, and she noticed that clients had a lot of questions about navigating the digital universe. How should online screenings be conducted? Can employees sign their on-boarding documents electronically? Should an employer discipline someone as a result of a social media footprint? The firm agreed that eLaw was a useful bundle of services and made her co-chair of the practice group, the first associate ever to hold such a position.
Wilson is a native of Columbia and a University of Missouri alumna who earned her law degree at the University of Michigan. At Constangy, she specializes in counseling and litigation prevention for technology, transportation, health care and retail companies. She helpa clients address employee issues through policy development, audits and training. In addition, she disseminates useful info about employment law to human-resources, trade and employer groups.
In April, when the firm held its St. Louis Quarterly Breakfast Briefing, Wilson was the co-presenter. The title of the talk: “HE SAID WHAT?! How to conduct an outstanding workplace investigation.” Wilson and a colleague explained the nuts and bolts of how a company should handle a sexual-harassment complaint in the #MeToo era: how to select an investigator, whom the investigator should interview, how to draw a conclusion and what the next steps should be.
“The worst thing you can do is sweep it under the rug,” Wilson said.
Wilson has been at Constangy for eight years and said she has no plans to leave.
“If you are a woman and you’re looking for a job, are you more attracted to a firm where you’ll be the only woman, or is it more attractive to see women on the executive committee?”