Being a great lawyer is about more than just understanding the law. It’s about understanding people—and communities. Dorothy Capers has proven this point by using her interpersonal skills to rise to the level of general counsel, build a cohesive legal team, and better her community. As executive vice president and group general counsel for transportation company National Express Group, Capers exercises her devotion to making a difference in people’s lives. The company’s focus on safety is in line with Capers’s philosophy of community service.
Growing up watching Perry Mason with her grandmother, Capers knew she wanted to be a lawyer. “He just seemed so valiant and investigative,” she says, referencing the iconic title character’s role on the television show.
This inspiration was further nurtured by her ties to civil rights lawyer Wiley Austin Branton Sr., an African American lawyer who helped desegregate the Arkansas school system and increase voter registrations for African Americans. Branton, a family friend, worked alongside her parents, who were also civil rights activists in Alabama and Arkansas during the 1960s. Influenced by her parents’ ideals, this lifelong legal warrior’s guidance, and the passion of a television drama character, Capers says, “I just became committed to serving my community, and I found the law a great way to make sure that justice is served.”
Some of her most memorable legal accomplishments have happened in Chicago. During the 1990s, local gangs began selling drugs on street corners. Capers worked with a number of agencies and departments on a multifunctional project to develop a drug and gang house initiative, engaging the community to combat crime and improve public safety. Later, she lent her skills to Chicago’s 2016 Summer Olympics bid, forging connections between corporate, municipal, and civic groups to prepare for the city’s bid. Working for city institutions like the Cook County government, City of Chicago Department of Law, and Cook County State Attorney’s Office “always made me feel like I was making a huge difference for the citizens of Chicago,” she says.
As much as she enjoyed these jobs, Capers has viewed every role as a stepping-stone to the next, continually building on her past experiences to go new places. When she took up her current position at National Express—a multinational company headquartered in the UK—at its North America office in the northwest Chicago suburb of Lisle, she learned the value of self-care.
She recalls, “When I first started in the global role a little over a year ago, I was literally up for twenty-four hours. As soon as I went to bed at eleven o’clock, [my international colleagues] were waking up and would start emailing, and then I would start responding. And I would look up and it’d be nine o’clock. I had to get to the office.” It took some time to understand the nuances of supporting a multinational company.
Aside from the time differences, she had to negotiate cultural differences, such as dissimilar work paces and approaches to company growth. The key to navigating such differences—and overcoming any career-related obstacles—has been relationships. Capers emphasizes the importance of long-term relationships over short-term wins in building and sustaining a career path.
“I really do feel like it’s a family, because we all rely heavily on each other.”
Another challenge Capers has addressed, in part, by leaning on the strong relationships she’s built over the years is launching her own diversity and inclusion initiative at National Express. “When I first got here, there were few women and no attorneys of color in the legal department. I was troubled by that, and so I changed the dynamic by ensuring that the set of candidates that I was presented with always had to have diverse attorneys.” It made sense to her, given the diverse groups National Express serves, that the company composition should reflect those communities internally.
In addition to reaching out to her vast network to find strong candidates, Capers has worked with many organizations, including the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago, the Asian American Bar Association of Greater Chicago, and Cook County Bar Association, to find quality candidates from different backgrounds. She notes that having different viewpoints on various projects has contributed to the company’s success.
Relationships are also what binds teams together when employees are weathering life’s storms. Capers lost a parent this year, as did one of her paralegals. Another employee was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. “We just really pulled together in a way that I’ve never seen employees work together,” she says. “I really do feel like it’s a family, because we all rely heavily on each other.”
Dorothy Capers sits on a number of boards and has taken on multiple passion projects that are in keeping with her dedication to community service. For example, as a transit company whose clients include a number of Chicago-area schools, National Express Group was facing a shortage of qualified bus drivers. Capers noticed an opportunity to simultaneously address National Express’s people needs and connect unemployed parents of children at the schools National Express serves to provide training and employment opportunities. She worked on an initiative with Children’s Home and Aid to help these parents obtain CDL licenses and become drivers for the schools that their children attended. She also volunteers at a battered women’s shelter and, with the help of her children and children’s friends, assembles survival kits for local homeless populations. These are issues that she cares deeply about, and in giving back with her children, she is carrying on her parents’ legacy.
“Dorothy Capers is a visionary leader, and Sedgwick is very proud of our partnership with Dorothy and National Express Group. Our collaboration has fostered a family-like team that continues to exceed expectations. Congrats on this well-deserved recognition!”