Delaware’s largest law firm appointed a new president on Monday, setting a number of historic precedents.
Doneene Keemer Damon, 51, is the first woman and the first African American to lead Richards, Layton & Finger, the 110-year-old firm based in Wilmington.
“It’s so humbling and very exciting,” said Damon, a graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls and St. Joseph’s University. “I aim to continue growing the firm and expanding it.”
Damon — who wanted to be a lawyer as long as she can remember -- began her legal career at the firm 27 years ago as a newly minted J.D. from Temple University’s School of Law. During her nearly three-decades at Richards Layton, Damon rose to co-chair the firm’s Business Department and chair the Corporate Trust and Agency Services Group.
As president, Damon will serve the next three years in a role equivalent to managing partner.
She has two immediate goals as she steers into the next decade.
Damon is laser-focused on making sure associates have the tools for them to grow as lawyers and grow their practices. "The second is a wellness initiative to be sure the entire firm is focused on wellness from a physical and a mental perspective. This is a stressful environment, and we need to address how our people deal with that stress and make sure they’re well cared for.
“It’s important that we have people who are not only well-versed in what they are doing, but are happy doing it,” she said.
Damon’s career in Delaware is serendipitous: She found her way to the state after her husband took a job at DuPont.
At Richards Layton, Damon — who also holds a degree in accounting — joined the structured finance practice and homed-in on asset-backed securities. It was a happy accident.
“My practice found me,” said Damon. “It’s not an area that you learn about in law school. There are no specific classes. The practice was quite robust at the firm when I first joined. And it was a perfect fit for me. But I didn’t go looking for it.”
She’s become an expert on the financial technology space, which includes cryptocurrencies and blockchain, and is frequently asked to speak about that burgeoning new realm.
“Those are areas that are growing and they touch on so many areas,” said Damon, who works with many large financial institutions. “It’s incumbent on us as lawyers to understand fintech, and the impact that it has on our clients.”
Damon said that the firm already draws up contracts using blockchain, the ledger-based technology that is secured by using cryptography.
“I had the pleasure of recently closing a securitization project that was completely blockchain based,” Damon said. “I think we’ll see much more of it.”
For fun, Damon travels the world with her husband and her 23-year-old son, a law student at the University of Southern California. “We travel constantly,” she said. “Italy is one of my favorite destinations, especially Rome, Venice and the Amalfi Coast. It may be more challenging to do that with the new position, but traveling and spending time with my family are my two favorite things.”