Vinson & Elkins taps former NYC Bar diversity director to head global DE&I efforts

Deborah Martin Owens joins after a year at US rival Sidley Austin
Headshot of Deborah Martin Owens

Deborah Martin Owens Image courtesy of Vinson & Elkins

Vinson & Elkins has added former New York City Bar diversity lead Deborah Martin Owens as its global director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). 

Martin Owens has joined the Houston-based firm after a little more than a year at US rival Sidley Austin, where she served as diversity director for the East Coast. She is based in New York. 

David Oelman, Vinson’s lead talent partner and member of the firm’s management committee, described Martin Owens’ hire as “integral” to creating a more inclusive culture at the firm. 

“Her experience as a lawyer as well as a leader in developing DE&I strategies and support in the workplace is unique, and we have no doubt she will be invaluable in guiding the firm toward long-term success in this area,” he added. 

Martin Owens’ tenure at Sidley saw her implement programs to support the firm’s D&I goals for its Boston, New York and Washington DC offices. Prior to that, she was executive director of diversity and inclusion at the New York City Bar Association for more than two years, which included working on the Associate Leadership Institute, a development training programme for mid-level and senior associates. Earlier she spent more than a decade as a lawyer in the New York office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. 


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At Vinson, Martin Owens will work with the firm’s leadership to develop and implement firm-wide DE&I initiatives, as well as serve as a strategic advisor on the retention and promotion of underrepresented lawyers.

“Our core principles pertaining to DE&I are central to our ability to attract and retain the best and lawyers and business professionals,” said Hy Pomerance, Vinson’s chief talent officer. “By defining clear goals and metrics, Deborah and our DE&I-focused team will further align the firm’s business objectives with our mission to build on our inclusive culture.”

Vinson was one of 118 law firms to achieve Mansfield Rule 4.0 certification last September following a year-long collaboration with Diversity Lab. The programme is designed to grow the racial and ethnic diversity of firms’ management committees so that at least 30% of candidates are from underrepresented groups. 

Martin Owens joining Vinson continues a flurry of ESG-related appointments globally as law firms look to ramp up their capabilities in the face of increasing client demand. 

Latham & Watkins added Sarah Fortt, who had led Vinson’s ESG effort, in February to be head of its own ESG practice in the US alongside Betty Huber, who moved over from Davis Polk & Wardwell. 

Also in February, Dentons added Hogan Lovells’ global sustainability head, Tokyo-based Aragon St-Charles, as its first-ever ESG strategy leader, while in London Mishcon de Reya appointed EY’s former global climate change and sustainability lead to a similar policy role in its sustainability business, Mishcon Purpose.

US firm Debevoise & Plimpton also hired sustainability expert and former Linklaters lawyer Ulysses Smith as its first senior ESG adviser in New York last November. 

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