Attorneys At The Succeeding In Spite Of Top Dismal Diversity Trends
Willie E. Dennis, Partner, K&L Gates L.L.P.
Willie Eugene Dennis has a knack for putting himself in the right place just before opportunity strikes. In 1996, he joined a boutique law firm that would become key players in the creation of Silicon Alley in New York. The firm represented technology companies and investors on the East Coast. “When we started we had no way of knowing just how significant this practice area was going to become, so when the technology boom was going full blast in 1998 we were right in the epicenter,” Dennis says.
When one of the key “rainmakers” of the firm left to start a venture capital fund, he made sure Dennis inherited a portion of his business, valued at nearly $2 million. “Typically, most partners of color rarely inherit clients from other partners or from the firm itself. Being given the opportunity to start with a book of business allowed me time to develop new clients while still being able to meet the financial goals required by my partners,” Dennis says. “I can’t emphasize how unique and lucky that experience was.”
Dennis joined the New York office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis LLP in 2005 as a partner in the firm’s corporate finance practice, handling disclosures, mergers and acquisitions and private equity investments for clients large and small. “I am the primary point of contact with the firm for my clients, and I do a blend of counseling and negotiating on their behalf,” he says.
Dennis empathizes with his firm’s commitment to diversity and actively recruits young attorneys from all ethnic backgrounds. His reasons for reaching out to the young and diverse are deep and personal. “I have two young sons and it is my desire to try to foster changes on the diversity front that will provide more opportunity in the future for others, including my sons,” he explains.
Dennis was born in Jamaica, Queens, and moved with his family to Westbury, Long Island, at the age of six. Inspiration for his future career soon followed. “From a very early age, for some reason, I was aware of the fact that there were many people within the community who needed someone to protect their rights and explain to them how they could improve their situation. I saw the law as a vehicle for social change,” he says.
Dennis graduated from Columbia University in 1984 and from Columbia Law School in 1988. Initially, he pursued his interest in urban planning by representing state and local governments in financial arrangements for projects that would address the education and housing needs of urban residents. He now lives in Harlem with his wife and sons, not far from Columbia University, and serves as director of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, one of nine such zones that Congress created in 1994 to help spur urban renewal. UMEZ has played a major role in helping Harlem to become a prime real estate market today.
In the story of Dennis’ life, timing is everything.