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Alumni Chats: Award-Winning In-House Counsel Chasity Henry Discusses Diversity Advocacy

Chasity Henry has made a name for herself on the Dallas legal scene in the last decade and a half. She started her career at V&E and has moved on to in-house counsel roles at major Texas companies including, most recently, consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark, where she serves as assistant general counsel. She’s earned accolades along the way, including recognition from Dallas-area magazines and legal associations.

“We started out with about 25 African-American women practicing law in Dallas, and now we’ve grown to 90 people a few years later. We’ve helped our members to become partners, given each other business, helped people get on boards or get job opportunities, speaking engagements, award nominations, and so on.”

As her own career flourished, Henry focused on elevating the legal careers of others, too, specifically women of color. In 2014, she founded The NEW Roundtable, Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes the advancement of African-American female attorneys, and also joined the board of the Diverse Attorney Pipeline Program (DAPP). Last year, her efforts earned her the 2018 Texas Minority Counsel Corporate Counsel of the Year Award.

V&E recently caught up with Henry to learn more about how she became an advocate for diversity in the law.

What brought you to V&E?

I’m from Fort Worth and I went to law school at the University of Texas in Austin, but I always had a plan of going back to practice in DFW. I didn’t really know any lawyers, so I decided to activate any network I could. UT had an alumni mentor directory, and I found (then-V&E associate) Lisa Bowlin Hobbs, who had gone to undergrad at the same place as a friend of mine. I reached out and told her about the connection and just said, “Hey, I’m a first year at UT. I see you work at V&E. That’s one of the firms that I’d be interested in. I would love to meet up with you for lunch or coffee sometime to get some advice.” Long story short, we had lunch, she gave great advice and she passed on my resume to the V&E hiring partner in Dallas. I clerked with V&E my 1L summer, went back for my second-year summer and then accepted a full-time offer after law school.

Later you switched over to working in-house. Why did you decide to make that jump?

I started in litigation at V&E. After a few months, while I enjoyed being in the litigation department, it became clear to me that what I enjoyed most was learning about our clients and helping them. I switched over to the corporate and securities group, working on M&A and securities matters. I got even more up close and personal with clients, would visit their offices, do due diligence or look at their books, and that really solidified for me that my personality and interests would be a good match for in-house life.

About four years in, I made the jump to a company called Novation in Irving, which was a V&E client. I received an introduction to them and everything worked out where I was able to transition in-house to Novation, which is now called Vizient, as my first in-house role.

How did you get your start working on diversity initiatives?

A couple of years after going in-house, there was a group of about a dozen women who were UT Law School alumni in Dallas who would meet periodically for happy hours. We were all black women. Some, like me, had gone in-house, and others were junior to mid-level at law firms. We began to talk about our challenges and our successes…and we realized we should focus our efforts on helping one another. We all had a network. We all had relationships. We could help to introduce one another to the people we needed to meet to get the business we needed to gain speaking opportunities, etc., if we were intentional about it. That was how The NEW Roundtable got its start. NEW stands for Network of Empowered Women.

What challenges were common among the group?

On the outside counsel side, for instance, it’s the struggle to gain access to the most important work to build your skill set, opportunities to interface with clients in order to build business, and sort of those tools that you need to have in order to make partner. For those of us who were in-house and aspiring to be general counsel or to move up through the corporate ranks, we also needed access to influencers within our department, to executives who could sponsor us getting to the next level.

What does The New Roundtable do?

We started out with about 25 African-American women practicing law in Dallas, and now we’ve grown to 90 people a few years later. We’ve helped our members to become partners, given each other business, helped people get on boards or get job opportunities, speaking engagements, award nominations, and so on. We put into practice the things that we had been talking about from the beginning.

And, more recently, you’ve become involved in another diversity program as well?

Yes, my work with The NEW Roundtable led to my participation in DAPP. It’s an initiative that was started by two women in Chicago who founded a program aimed at helping women of color law students thrive during their first year of law school and obtain summer internships.

That program directly spoke to me because it took me right back to being in that same position of not really having connections and reaching out to someone like Lisa, who helped me and introduced me to V&E. So, I got involved with DAPP and now I sit on the board.

For the past couple years, I’ve been working on a program called DAPP Direct, where in-house counsel women of color put on a job fair for 1L women of color and interview them on behalf of law firms for internship opportunities. Corporations partner with the law firms in that endeavor.

Have you worked with V&E on your diversity initiatives?

V&E is actually in its second year of participating in DAPP Direct. They’ve hired a DAPP Direct summer associate to work in their Dallas office, and they’re partnering with Flowserve so that summer associate also gets the opportunity to spend some time at Flowserve to see what in-house life is like as well.

V&E was a natural place for me to reach out to because I had preexisting relationships with people who knew me and trusted my judgment. When I talked to them about the opportunity, they were really excited to get involved. And I’d also just known that V&E had done a lot in terms of diversity and inclusion throughout the years, so I thought it would be a great plus for them to jump in, and they agreed.

In addition to your role at Kimberly-Clark and your diversity advocacy, you’re the mother of two young children. How do you balance it all?

For me, like for many people, you just go through periods of focusing on what you need to focus on while putting other things on the back burner. It’s not that I’m not always focused on being the best lawyer I can be and the best mom I can be, but I think if you try to focus the same intensity on every aspect of your life, all at once, it leads to you being mediocre in all of them. So when I’m on an M&A deal for Kimberly-Clark and I’m traveling, I’m working day and night and weekends, focusing on that transaction and doing the best I can. Then, when that transaction’s over, I get to relax a bit. I go on a vacation with my family or I make it a point to just be more present on the weekends and at night.

The same is true with DAPP and The NEW Roundtable. There are periods when those are very busy, and I just try to make sure I’m giving everything the focus that it needs. It’s a long way of saying that there is no perfect balance, but I try to dial it up and dial it back when needed in certain areas of my life to make sure that on the whole, everything is taken care of.