Diversity director 'never ceases to be amazed'

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

In almost 13 years of practice in labor and employment law, attorney Michelle Crockett has never once been bored. "It never ceases to amaze me as to what actually goes on in the workplace," she says. "I still find my jaw often dropping when I read the alleged facts of certain cases!"

Crockett, a principal with Miller Canfield's Employment and Labor Group in Detroit and the firm's new Diversity Director, knew from fourth grade that she wanted to be an attorney; but up until her second year at Wayne Law School, believed her focus would be in the criminal arena.

That all changed when, during her second year, she clerked at a local labor boutique firm--and knew unequivocally she had found her calling.

"Labor and employment law, in my opinion, is one of the few areas in the legal profession where you can actually effectuate the most change--both for individuals and in the corporate arena," she says.

But when Crockett first graduated, she wanted to work with plaintiffs and labor unions, thinking this would be the only way to have any real impact on people's lives.

"I was wrong," she says.

After a year of servicing individuals and unions, Crockett took a chance and decided to join Miller Canfield.

"My thought was--if I hated it, I could always go back to being the 'people's champion,'" she says.

But she quickly learned she could effectuate more change by representing employers than on the other side of the table.

"By having the opportunity to meet with management and candidly discuss problem areas and suggest improvements on various processes and procedures, I soon discovered I could be a bigger change agent than I ever thought possible," she says. "For me, it's all about trying to make the workplace, and people's lives in general, more equitable and fair."

As the firm's new diversity director, her goal is to establish synergy between recruiting, mentoring and diversity efforts to ensure the firm moves forward in a very clear, decisive direction.

"Our world is more diverse and therefore our clients are more diverse," she notes. "We must work to exemplify that diversity within our own workforce--not an easy challenge, in that there's a lack of diversity within the legal profession overall."

Despite the challenge, Crockett--the first and only African-American female partner at Miller Canfield, elevated to partnership in January 2008 - says Miller Canfield must look for creative and innovative ways to be more inclusive and appealing to diverse professionals.

"I'd like to see our firm become known as the place where people actually want to work because of its commitment to diversity," she says.

As chair of "Women of Miller Canfield"--a group focused on internal mentorship, cross-selling each other, and external practice development, Crockett leads more than 100 female lawyers in Miller Canfield's 17 offices towards empowerment.

"It's important women not only work at large law firms and in the corporate arena, but also succeed and attain positions of leadership--it's only through leadership that true change can actually occur," she says.

A graduate of North Carolina State University, Crockett calls Wayne Law--where she was associate editor, Journal of Law in Society--a special place, not only because of its geographic location, but also because of its commitment to the community at-large.

When she started at Wayne, Crockett was new to Detroit, but she soon felt she had become a part of the community.

"I learned the importance of helping with the city's revitalization," she says. "I also became absolutely fascinated with Detroit's history, especially its racial demographics and the surprising segregation of our neighborhoods. It was at Wayne that I not only received a top-notch legal education, but also where I began to develop a passion for giving back and serving this community."

Published: Thu, Mar 21, 2013