Leading role: Firm's new chief diversity officer aims to broaden mentoring, recruiting efforts


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

When it comes to legal role models, Brooks Kushman attorney Chanille Carswell had one of the best during the early stages of her career, which recently took another impressive turn when the Detroit native was appointed Chief Diversity Officer of the firm.

In a sense, Carswell now has become a trailblazer for one of the premier intellectual property and technology law firms in Michigan, much like her role model – U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts – has done for women of color throughout the state’s legal community.

Carswell, a Detroit Cass Tech product and Wayne State University Law School grad, served as judicial law clerk to Judge Roberts for six years from 2002-08 before joining Brooks Kushman in a litigation role.

“Judge Roberts really personifies a standard of excellence in her work and in all of the accomplishments over the course of her career,” said Carswell. “I learned so much from her and have tried to pattern myself after her in so many respects – character, work ethic, preparation, and willingness to serve. She has set the bar high for me and many other African American women.”

As a shareholder and co-chair of litigation for Brooks Kushman, Carswell now has assumed another list of leadership responsibilities, according to Sangeeta Shah, CEO of the firm that has offices in Michigan and California.

“At this critical juncture, when our work and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion must reach a new level, we are elated to have Chanille as our Chief Diversity Officer,” said Shah in announcing her appointment. “She is a proven leader and has an impressive track record. Throughout her career, she has seized opportunities to advance under-represented groups, and to understand and pursue effective strategies for progress in the legal profession and broader community. She has been a pillar of Brooks Kushman’s DEI initiatives. Over the past decade, she has repeatedly demonstrated her willingness to go above and beyond to effectuate real change, which is why I know she is a great fit for this leadership position.”

Shah indicated that Carswell will focus on broadening Brooks Kushman’s “mentoring and recruitment programs, professional development strategies, pipeline initiatives, and community outreach programs.” In addition, she will “work closely with the firm’s Executive Committee to implement internal strategies that foster hiring, mentoring, and promoting diverse professionals.”

Carswell graduated from Cass Tech in 1987 and initially planned to pursue an accounting degree at Michigan State University before deciding to go the pre-law route after completing her first year of college.

“I ended up with a degree in English and philosophy, which set the stage for attending law school at Wayne State,” Carswell said. “I’m now the first lawyer in the family, but hopefully not the last.”

While in law school, Carswell got her first taste of working for Roberts, back at a time when the future federal jurist was in private practice. Upon graduation from law school, Carswell landed a job with the Legal Aid and Defender Association, spending 1-1/2 years there en route to a staff attorney post with UAW-Chrysler Legal Services.

Then, at a time she called a “crossroads” in her career, Carswell was hired by then Judge Roberts to be her law clerk, a six-year assignment in which she “got a taste of everything,” including work in the bankruptcy, Social Security, employment, trademark, patent, products liability, and commercial law fields.

Her work with Judge Roberts led to an opportunity at Brooks Kushman, which in 2008 was seeking a young associate interested in litigation work, according to attorney Bill Abbatt, longtime shareholder with the firm.

Abbatt, who specializes in patent prosecution and patent litigation work, was among those who interviewed Carswell for the opening and has since welcomed her involvement in the Michigan Intellectual Property Inns of Court Chapter, where she has been “instrumental in helping us build our membership and in managing the organization.”

Since joining the firm, Carswell has proven to be a quick study in the trademark and copyright areas, handling “all aspects of intellectual property litigation” from the inception of a case through trial.

“I’ve always had the bug for litigation work,” said Carswell. “I enjoy the mental challenge of sparring with an opponent.”

In addition, Carswell said she is “passionate about pushing our firm to be a leader in the DEI space,” aiming to improve “transparency and objectiveness in our hiring and promotional practices” and to “create more opportunities for diverse individuals.”

As part of those efforts, Carswell will continue to facilitate the firm’s participation in the Wolverine Bar Association’s Summer Clerkship Program, which is designed to increase the number of minority attorneys. She also will remain involved in the Corporate Counsel Women of Color community and is a regular supporter of Alternatives for Girls, a nonprofit organization that serves homeless and at-risk girls and women in Detroit.

Carswell’s parents, Joann and Phillip, are both retired after spending the bulk of their careers working for AT&T and Chrysler, respectively.

Her husband, Kevin, an alumnus of Stillman College, is a project manager for AT&T, and doubles as a professional deejay (DJ Quiet Storm) in his spare time.

“He used to be a teacher in Detroit, but has had his own deejay business for more than 20 years,” said Carswell, who also has a sister, Leslie. “He loves it and he is good at it.”


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