Ernest Tuckett, co-founder of the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative, and vice president, associate general counsel, Verisign

Ernest Tuckett shares the crucial role mentors and strong networks have played in his career and how co-founding the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative will allow others the same opportunities.

I have had mentors that saw valuable qualities in me that I did not see in myself.

I have been very fortunate in my career. I spent many years at a law firm before making the leap to in-house counsel and, during my journey, I ended up meeting mentors who saw leadership potential in me.

They foresaw that I had the ability to take on stretch assignments outside of my focused disciplines, and roles as an executive leading teams. Over my career, I have led  a number of legal teams in leadership roles including as General Counsel for the Americas region of a chemical company and in my current role reporting to the General Counsel of a global public company.  I believe I have made good on all those opportunities that my mentors and managers have entrusted to me. I am so grateful to all the folks who have seen something in me and supported me for opportunities and promotions and hired me into leadership roles. This is one of the reasons that I am passionate about giving back and helping others on their career paths. It was a driving impetus for me co-founding the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative (

Labor of love

It all started in the summer of 2017, at the annual convention of the National Bar Association. During an event of the Commercial Law Section, I was asked to give a presentation about the ‘State of Diversity in the In-house Bar.’ In the talk, I challenged the Black general counsel in the audience to set an aggressive goal and work together to increase the number of Black GCs in Fortune 1000 and other large companies.

In the audience at the time was April Miller Boise, then general counsel of Meritor and now general counsel of Eaton Corp., both Fortune 1000 companies. Together, we founded the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative. The Initiative is a labor of love to help other talented lawyers receive the benefit of mentoring and networking. Our primary aim is to draw attention to the talented Black leaders in the legal profession who are ready now for top level general counsel roles.

Our initiative creates a strong network by connecting current and former Fortune 1000 general counsel with aspiring Black legal leaders. The Advisory Council has developed a list of the key skills required to secure a top-level general counsel role. Through the Initiative, we share general counsel job opportunities with various corporations, and we create connections with executive recruiters who lead those searches. This gives the members of the cohort of the initiative a chance to put their names in the hat and be considered when opportunities arise. We currently have a cohort of 41 legal leaders in the initiative.

The community created by the Initiative is also a good resource for recruiters or anyone who wants to find diverse talent. One of the hardest parts of moving up the corporate ladder is knowing about opportunities. High-level jobs are rarely advertised, and we rely on our network to help make these job openings known to the lawyers in the cohort and in the Black legal community generally.

Meaningful mentors and the power of networks

Mentoring is so important to grooming future leaders in the corporate world, and this is especially true for underrepresented groups, such as women and racial minorities. Not every lawyer will get the chance to become a general counsel, but when selecting the pool of people who will get exposure to opportunities to expand their leadership skills and qualify for general counsel roles, we need to strive to make sure there is diverse talent in that pool.

Having a mentor and a champion in my hiring manager and first boss at DuPont was a game changer for me, and that is why I tell everyone that mentors are so important. Various mentors in my career have helped me see my own leadership potential and they have guided me through some low moments when my confidence was shaky and I could not envision myself doing bigger things.

Mentoring is so important to grooming future leaders in the corporate world, and this is especially true for underrepresented groups, such as women and racial minorities.

I have given back by mentoring many others. I am proud to say that a number of my mentees and former direct reports are now general counsel and/or hold leadership positions in national and international corporations.

Networks are powerful resources. Networks include a wide variety of people at all different levels from a cross-section of areas who have some common connection to us and provide a bridge to opportunities and to other people who can do the same. Strong networks include people who will put our name forward for opportunities. It is critically important that rising attorneys have networks that include people who will help them move along their career paths.

One of the simplest ways to create more diversity is to make sure that people not traditionally thought of when discussing future leaders are intentionally included. Building a network of Black rising leaders, as we strive to do in the Initiative, creates a pipeline of diverse talent for leadership positions. Providing diverse talent with a realistic road map on how to become general counsel will inspire more lawyers from different backgrounds to prepare themselves and aim for leadership positions.

In the right direction

When thinking of ways to help increase diversity, we all have to start somewhere, so do not despise small beginnings. If your efforts enable you to hire even one or two diverse employees, that will make a difference. People tend to gravitate to the places where they can find allies and people who look like them. In my own career, I have seen that employing diverse talent leads to more diverse talent in the workplace. When an organization has diverse lawyers, especially at the leadership level, they attract other diverse employees to the organization. Most people in underrepresented groups do not want to be the ‘only one’ at their company on in the department.

There is a past history of women and minorities being excluded from professional opportunities. The current statistics demonstrate that the number of women and minority executives in Fortune 1000 companies remains low. Ultimately, we need professional diversity initiatives aimed at trying to address any lasting effects of the past exclusion of underrepresented groups. Our goal should be trying to level the playing field for everyone in the future.

Having major corporations and law firms engage in intentional effort to find diverse talent when opportunities arise will go a long way towards making the profession more equitable.

Overall, many companies and law firms state that having a diverse team is critical to them performing at their optimal level, based on various studies supporting this conclusion. There is evidence that the legal profession is trying to create more opportunities for underrepresented groups. Over the years, we have seen improvements for some groups but, for others, including Black professionals, improvement has been lagging.

Having major corporations and law firms engage in intentional effort to find diverse talent when opportunities arise will go a long way towards making the profession more equitable. The Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative is striving to do our part to answer the common question of “where is the diverse talent?” In addition to the 41 members in our cohort, our website ( has two lists of current and former general counsel which include more than 200 names of Black lawyers who are or have been general counsel of a range of companies. One of those two lists is the Fortune 1000 and Global 1000 Black GCs.

I ask recruiters, CEOs, and hiring managers to visit our website and contact us when looking to find diverse talent for a GC or other legal leadership search, and for board director positions as well.

The Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative plans to help increase the number of Black GCs by focusing on:

  • Identifying all current and former Black GCs in the Fortune 1000 and other large companies
  • Setting forth ideal core criteria to be a successful GC
  • Using the criteria to identify ‘ready now’ Black GC candidates
  • Connecting Black GCs and ready now candidates to new GC opportunities and to executive search professionals who focus on GC recruitment
  • Connecting ready now candidates and new Black GCs to each other, and to mentors and advisers, to help with their searches and career paths