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Building bridges for the next generation

Professional Profile
|Written By Jennifer Brown
Building bridges for the next generation

Ernest Tuckett doesn’t mince words when asked how he feels diversity should be addressed in the legal profession. Tuckett is a strong advocate for promoting minorities and believes there has to be some form of consequence to get outside law firms to respond effectively. “I definitely think the carrot-and-stick approach is needed in the legal profession,” says Tuckett, who became the new general counsel for DuPont Canada last June after working for the company in the United States. “We can get the most with the carrot and show how serious we are about diversity when we make some hiring decisions based on how folks perform in that area. Certainly that’s the case in the U.S. and from what I’ve seen in Canada it could be helpful here as well. I understand the dynamics are different in the states — we can and do track numbers — whereas in Canada it seems to be mostly self-reporting.”

Law firms may be afraid to make it a strategic issue, but Tuckett says there are many reasons to explore how diverse the profession has become other than filling a need by clients who demand a diverse roster of lawyers working on their files. “I think most women, minorities, and gay and lesbian lawyers will happily self-identify if asked — if they know the purpose is to try and measure their success in the profession. So I think we should push and encourage firms to ask — to the extent they can. I think we’ll get a good sense of the growth of those groups in the profession even if it’s only voluntary disclosure.”

When he came to Toronto last June, Tuckett brought many ideas on helping to bridge the gap for future generations of lawyers, including reaching down to the high school level in communities where kids might not consider law as a career. Tuckett believes strongly in community outreach and wants to launch a program in Canada similar to a U.S. one called Street Law, Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline program, developed with the Association of Corporate Counsel. He was the 2009-2010 chairman of the DuPont legal minority counsel network and project co-ordinator of DuPont Legal’s Street Law project, which DuPont administers at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Dela. Tuckett also served on the board of Delaware Futures, Inc., a non-profit that provides academic support to disadvantaged high school students.

Clarissa Da Costa, one of the lawyers on Tuckett’s team in Toronto, will be working with him and the ACC to bring a Street Law chapter to Canada.

“We want to work with other legal departments and maybe a law firm or two on bringing the Street Law model to Toronto,” says Tuckett. The program targets high school students in under-represented demographics of the legal profession. “It’s usually racial minorities and women,” says Tuckett. “We fashion a program to introduce them to corporate law topics and the day-to-day life of corporate lawyers, and teach them a few basic legal concepts in the classroom. Then we bring them to a one-day seminar to act out those scenarios where they play the role of lawyers and advocates around corporate law.”

The end goal, says Tuckett, is to introduce students to the legal profession and expose them to the law as a potential career. “By introducing them to lawyers, paralegals, and law clerks and getting them interested in the law it becomes a pipeline initiative to one day feed into the profession.”

Tuckett is also part of the DuPont minority counsel network in the U.S., which is comprised of lawyers of colour from the 40 law firms that do work for the company and lawyers of colour within the DuPont legal department.

Prior to arriving in Toronto, Tuckett was corporate counsel at DuPont’s headquarters in Wilmington, serving as commercial counsel supporting its crop protection business platform. When he was approached about the job north of the border he says he jumped at the chance. “I thought it was a great opportunity. It was offering me the general counsel role and responsibilities, and Toronto as a city and Canada as a country for an international assignment was just terrific. It was an opportunity for me to have a leadership role and to bring some of the things I had learned at headquarters to help develop the team here.”

DuPont Canada’s in-house team has six people — four lawyers and two paralegals — handling a range of legal matters from commercial issues and contracts to employment, IP, environmental law, as well as anti-trust issues. “We also play a role in business strategy that dovetails with our role as legal advisers.”

Tuckett sits on the leadership team for the company and has the most business-focused role of the department, but he also wants to help his department develop their own careers. He sees it as another way to boost the effectiveness of the team. “I told the team when I got here that my main focus was to get our work done, but my close second, in terms of priorities, was their development from the perspective of getting the most out of their career at DuPont,” says Tuckett. “Since I’ve been here I’ve had multiple conversations with them about development, and we’ve also had discussions about development that we see as beneficial to the company and the team that we can all engage in.” Formal development plans are now in the works for each person on the team that will be tailored for each of their skill sets and experiences.

On the operational side, Tuckett and his team continue to pursue DuPont’s global recovery initiative that works to bring money back to the company through legal means. “I believe legal has tracked about $2 billion in recoveries over the course of 10 years or so now,” he says. “We’ve been very successful in recovering tens of millions of dollars in revenue — identifying it for our business units and then taking steps ranging from demand letters to lawsuits that will recover those monies. We are engaged in that and every day looking for more opportunities.”

Tuckett notes all law departments can do it. There are two reasons: “We’re a cost centre and that helps us re-create our image a bit and deflect from that cost and become a revenue generator.” It also positions the legal department to be close to the client and proactive. “That’s one of many ways we can be proactive too helping to advance the interests of our business clients.” For instance, Tuckett points to an accounts receivable strategy that might not be aggressive enough. “You may have large receivables that would otherwise be written off but with earlier attention you can recover a good amount.” Even in the event of a bankruptcy they were able to put a customer on cash only early on then take deductions from all the rebates they would have been earning and whittle their debt down to a fraction of the other creditors that let them run on credit much longer. “So when we got to the bankruptcy stage and there was no money we had a much smaller write off at the end of the day for our business people.”

The more significant win backs are uncollected royalties where someone might be using something of DuPont’s and there’s no one tracking the royalty agreement. “It might have gone unnoticed and they see opportunities for legal to look at some contracts and call or audit them. There are also outright breaches of contracts and lawsuits that we don’t always count as recoveries but there are some you have to sue in order to get the licence payment.”

In Toronto, Tuckett reports directly to Michael Oxley, the president of DuPont Canada, and within the legal department, to Sharon Leyhow, the associate general counsel in the U.S.

Prior to going in-house at DuPont Tuckett was counsel at the law firm of Arent Fox LLP in Washington, D.C. where he spent 10 years as part of that firm’s litigation and employment practice groups.

While at Arent Fox, employment law became his focus but once he went in-house he found there was demand for the other areas he had experience in at the firm. “I was able to switch into commercial law with DuPont. I see myself as more of a legal generalist and a business lawyer. I think my litigation and employment and other commercial background helped me see the big picture of a business and really help with everything from pensions, to employment issues and contracts, to the competition issues and ethics violations and investigations. My background really suits me well to provide a legal and business adviser role for the company.”

Living in the heart of downtown Toronto, Tuckett says he’s enjoying the fast-paced lifestyle. “I have been pleased by the depth of richness of diversity of Toronto. The traffic is horrible but it’s part of being in a good city. I do love being here — Toronto is a great city.”


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