María D. Meléndez

Chief Diversity Officer Sidley Austin LLP

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 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.
Pro Bono
During her career as a lawyer, María has represented many pro bono clients. This includes serving as lead counsel in post-conviction proceedings challenging a capital murder conviction in Macon County, Alabama, representing victims of domestic violence in matrimonial and family court proceedings, and representing a U-Visa applicant.
María is a member and former chair of the board of directors of LatinoJustice PRLDEF and a former member of the executive committee. LatinoJustice PRLDEF, established in 1972, has won landmark civil-rights cases in education, housing, voting, migrant, immigrant, employment and other civil rights.
She is also a member of the board of directors of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF). TMCF is the nation’s largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community. TMCF member-schools include the publicly-supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs).
From 2003 to July 2007, Maria served on the board of directors of Her Justice, Inc. (formerly inMotion, Inc.), a public-service organization that provides free legal services to low-income women in New York City seeking protection from batterers, custody of their children, child support and a safe place to live. She also served as Sidley’s representative to Her Justice and handled cases on behalf of Her Justice clients. In 2014, María received the Her Justice Commitment to Justice Award.
Memberships & Activities
• María is a member of the Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals, the Advisory Board of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession, the American Bar Association, the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association, the Hispanic Lawyers Society of New York, and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and, until 2018, was a member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York’s Diversity Pipeline Initiatives Committee.
• She also served as a member of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, including as New York chair from 2002 to 2016, a member of the Recruiting of Associates Committee and the New York co-chair of the Summer Associate Programs Committee.
Speaking engagements include:
• Panelist, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace and Legal Considerations”, Firm client (February 25, 2021).
• Panelist, “Diversity & Inclusion in the Time of COVID: Differing Impacts of the Pandemic in the Legal Profession”, The Seventh Circuit Bar Association’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee (February 24, 2021).
• Panelist, “Management & Leadership: Interrupting Bias, Building Diverse Teams, and Creating an Inclusive Workplace”, Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (February 23, 2021).
• Panelist, “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: The Successes and Challenges in Corporate America”, New York State Bar Association’s Business Law Section, The Association of Black Women Attorneys, and the Metropolitan Black Bar Association (February 23, 2021).
• Keynote Speaker, “In the Crosswalk: The Intersection of COVID, Race, Technology, and the Law,” Albany Law Journal of Science and Technology Symposium (November 4, 2020).
• Participant in Fireside Chat with Sidley Partner Joan Loughnane, “The Breonna Taylor Case: The Grand Jury, The Civil Case, and the Federal Civil Rights Investigation,” Flagstar Bank (November 2, 2020).
• Panelist, “Efforts by Employers to Increase Diversity When Recruiting and Hiring,” Puerto Rican Bar Association (October 3, 2020).
• Panelist, Celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month: Attorneys of Hispanic Descent Share Their Journey & Thoughts on D&I in the Profession, Deloitte (October 6, 2020).
• Panelist, “Alumnae Trailblazers: Forging a Path for Women in Law”, Albany Law School of Union University (September 22, 2020).
• Panelist, “Creating Allies – Strategies from the Best of the Best,” Working Mother’s Best Law Firms for
Women Conference (September 22, 2020).
• Panelist, “Staying on Track: Workplace Diversity and Inclusion in the Midst of COVID-19,” The Association of
the Bar of the City of New York (New York, August 30, 2020).
• Panelist, “Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion,” SIFMA NY Regional Conference (New York, October 22,
• Panelist, “Beyond Mentoring: Eliminating Bias and Creating Inclusive Workplaces for Women of Color,” the
Association of the Bar of the City of New York (New York, June 24, 2019).
• Panelist, “Let’s Chat: Road to Partnership,” Dominican Bar Association (New York, May 29, 2019).
• Panelist, “Women’s Empowerment Leadership and Law (WELL) Conference: She Persisted: Securing the
Future of Latinas,” Rutgers University (New Jersey, March 16, 2019).
• Panelist, “Giving Back Through Pro Bono — Ways to Impact Your Community,” Corporate Counsel Women of
Color Conference (New York, October 10, 2018).
• Panelist, “Latina Leadership in Corporate America, Non-profits, and Government,” National Latina/o Law
Student Association’s Conference, New York University School of Law (New York, October 5, 2018).
• Panelist, “Puerto Rico Se Levanta: Sovereignty Without Representation,” New York University School of Law
(New York, February 5, 2018).
• Panelist, “Management and Leadership — Building and Leading Diverse and Inclusive Teams,” Thomson
Reuters and Sidley Austin LLP (New York, October 16, 2017).
• Panelist, “Five Effective Strategies to Move into Expanded Growth Roles in Your Organization Including
Outside of the Legal Department,” Corporate Counsel Women of Color Conference (New Orleans, September
28, 2017).
• Panelist, “Five Things First Generation College Graduates Must Know to Be Successful,” Syracuse University
(Syracuse, New York, September 14, 2017).
• Panelist, “Forging Pathways: The Advancement of Diverse Women in Law,” Sidley Austin LLP (New York,
March 20, 2017).
• Panelist, “Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable,” American Bar Association Annual Corporate Counsel
Conference (Orlando, February 17, 2017).
• Keynote Speaker, “2016 Latina Leadership Academy Luncheon,” HNBA Annual Conference (Chicago,
September 7, 2016).
• Panelist, “Flashes of Brilliance,” Eighth Annual Women’s Leadership Forum, Council of Urban Professionals
(New York, July 26, 2016).
• Panelist, “Fireside Chat: Intersectionality,” Diversity and Inclusion Conference, the Association of the Bar of
the City of New York (New York, May 26, 2016).
• Panelist, “Latinas in Leadership: A Showcase of Careers Across Industries,” 2016 Inaugural Harvard Latino
Law Conference, Harvard Law School (February 19, 2016).
• Panelist, “Latinos in the Law,” Cornell Law School (Ithaca, New York, October 7, 2015).
• Panelist, “Subverting the Norm: A Discussion on the Extraordinary Attrition Rates Facing Women of Color at Law Firms,” Empowering Women of Color Conference: Playing the Game? Reflections on the Lives of Women of Color, Columbia Law School (New York, April 3, 2015).
• Panelist, “Rompiendo the ‘Multilayered’ Glass Ceiling,” Hispanic National Bar Association Annual Corporate Counsel Conference (San Antonio, March 20, 2015).
• Albany Law School of Union University (J.D., 1992, cum laude, Associate Editor, Albany Law Review)
• Syracuse University (B.S., 1989)