CLEO, Inc.


Creating Change of Her Own
Deborah Martin Owens Is a Pioneer of DEI

Alexandria, VA —February 10, 2023—Deborah Martin Owens grew very excited about the possibility of  being a lawyer while watching “Eyes On the Prize,” the documentary about the history of the civil rights movement and “the pioneering lawyers such as Bob Carter, Constance Baker Motley, Thurgood Marshall, Jack Weinstein, all of the great people who fought for rights—voting rights, housing rights….”  But she was 12 or 13 years old when she earnestly considered being a lawyer after police brutally killed Eleanor Bumpurs, a mentally ill woman over housing repairs in Bronx, NY.

Global diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategist, Deborah Martin Owens is the featured guest on “The CLEO EDGE” Podcast #6.  Hosted by CLEO President and CEO, J.C. Polanco, Esq., MBA, the podcast, which can be accessed here:, touches on the career of an attorney who has made diversity, equity, and inclusion her life’s work.  A first generation high school, college, and law school student, the activist/leader says that the legal profession has been good to her because it provided her “community, friendships, and opportunities to serve. ”  Most importantly, however, she has been gratified to help students and young attorneys to navigate their path through the legal profession.

A native New Yorker, Owens has volunteered and worked with organizations and companies that focus on women and diversity throughout her career.  She spent more than 12 years as a Staff Attorney at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, New York, NY.  However, “Deborah began her pioneering in the DEI domain when she became the Executive Director of the City of New York Bar Association’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, where she designed and grew various diversity and pipeline programs in a primarily Caucasian organization,” said Polanco.

For five years, the trailblazer would lead DEI efforts at the City Bar Association; Sidley Austin, LLP; and Vinson & Elkins.  She advised law firms about their DEI strategies. She mentored and managed DEI teams, and developed talent within law firms and opportunities for young attorneys to thrive.  She provided access to programs and filled the pipeline with high school students and young lawyers while at the City Bar.  A CLEO ally, Martin was leader of the New York City Bar when the organization received the CLEO EDGE Award for Diversity in 2018, CLEO’s 50th Anniversary.

What advice would she give young people before they think about law school?  “Work somewhere (in the legal profession) before going to law school. Do two years as a paralegal.  Immerse yourself with other lawyers, reach out to organizations such as BLSA and other groups and find out what their experiences are. And last, be confident that this career, if you decide, will have ebbs and flows, but it will work out.”

There are now six “The CLEO EDGE” podcasts which offer insights into diversity, law school admission, and highlight trailblazers in the legal community. The content and discussion can be enjoyed by any fan of podcasts and/or great conversation!  All episodes can be found at  We have thousands of heartfelt testimonies of success,” said Polanco. “And, we want to share them widely with the legal community and beyond.”

Watch the full podcast video at: or listen on To contact CLEO for more information or other queries, email:


About the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, Inc.

CLEO, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization committed to diversifying the legal profession by expanding legal education opportunities for persons from traditionally under-represented racial and ethnic groups, low-income, and disadvantaged communities. Founded in 1968, when the number of lawyers of color was less than one percent, CLEO has since had more than 30,000 high school, college, prelaw, and law students participate in its programs. CLEO alumni have excelled in every area of the legal profession to include judges, corporate attorneys, law school deans and professors, practitioners, and politicians. More information about CLEO, its 50+ year history, and its programs can be found at and


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Media Contact:
Bernetta J. Hayes, VP of Media and External Relations