María D. Meléndez, Chief Diversity Officer, leads Sidley’s efforts to further advance and increase diversity and inclusion across the firm’s global offices and within the legal profession as a whole. Her role is committed to the principle that having lawyers of all backgrounds greatly enriches Sidley’s perspective of the legal landscape and enhances its ability to serve clients. It also furthers the firm’s ability to develop, support and encourage new generations of lawyers to carry on its commitment to excellence, integrity, diversity and inclusion, and collegiality. As Chief Diversity Officer, María works closely with firm management to administer and support the firm’s efforts to recruit, hire, develop and promote exceptionally talented lawyers around the globe.
Working in partnership with Sidley’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee — of which she was New York chair from 2002 to 2016 — and Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women, together with Sidley colleagues, clients and other key stakeholders, María facilitates the high-level development and integration of diversity-related recruitment, retention and advancement initiatives for lawyers at all levels. Such efforts incorporate client collaborations, mentorship and pipeline programs and community-outreach strategies that promote diversity and inclusion in the profession. A frequent speaker on issues surrounding equity and fairness, María is dedicated to bolstering the framework of policy and practices that have advanced Sidley’s recognition as a top law firm for women and lawyers of diverse backgrounds.
Peers and business leaders have recognized María throughout her legal career as a steadfast champion of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. María is the recipient of the 2021 George Arents Award, Syracuse University's highest alumni honor, for excellence in law and diversity initiatives. She also received the LatinoJustice PRLDEF 2020 Latina Trailblazer Award. She was appointed to serve on the Multicultural Advancement Advisory Council of Syracuse University in 2019. A year earlier, she was honored with the Puerto Rican Bar Association’s Flor de Maga award, given to trailblazing women who demonstrate leadership in their fields, who are role models to other women and girls and who advocate for equity in society. María is a recipient of the Council of Urban Professionals Cup Catalyst: Change Agent-LAW award, which recognizes outstanding leaders in the legal sector who have had a significant impact on their community through nonprofit or public-sector service, mentorship and philanthropy. She has also received the Albany Law School Kate Stoneman Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to ensuring equity and fairness for women in the legal profession, as well as the Women’s City Club of New York Civic Spirit Award.
A former partner in Sidley’s Commercial Litigation and Disputes practice, María has more than 25 years of experience in the litigation and arbitration of high-stakes commercial disputes, representing global clients in state and federal courts throughout the United States and before arbitral tribunals. Her experience includes matters involving allegations of fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and other business torts, securities litigation, RICO and product-liability matters. Over the years, strong leadership and success in representing clients have earned her acknowledgement from various industry groups, including being named one of the Top 250 Women in Litigation by Benchmark Litigation from 2017 through 2019. She was also elected as a member of the American Law Institute in 2019.