For Jennifer K. Parnell, diversity has been a passion throughout her career. She currently serves as vice president and assistant general counsel in JPMorgan Chase’s government investigations and regulatory enforcement (GIRE) group, and says she’s learned to have “a diversity of practice,” meaning she’s able to quickly adapt to the nuanced issues that she’s tackled throughout her career. But she’s also dedicated to helping more attorneys of color get opportunities in her field—which can benefit not just aspiring lawyers, but also any business that wants to succeed.
“I think it’s key to the longevity of any business to have a diversity of people working for your company,” Parnell says. “If we all are the same, we won’t have a diversity of ideas; we won’t have different perspectives at the table. As a result, you’re going to miss some stuff and your business will suffer.”
She believes her passion for diversity was cemented in law school when she was introduced to a quote by Mary Church Terrell, a women’s suffrage and civil rights advocate. She still remembers it: “lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go.” The quote continues to resonate with her, Parnell says, especially when she thinks of the mentors who’ve helped her throughout her career.
“I think it’s imperative that as a minority professional who has achieved what one might define as ‘success’ of any sort, you don’t say, ‘Hey, thank goodness I got here’ and pull the ladder up behind you,” she says. “You try to lift up other people and show them the way that you got there—and that was something that was done for me.”
Parnell found some of her first mentors at Texas law firm Locke Lord (formerly Locke, Liddell & Sapp), where she worked as a summer clerk and an associate attorney early in her career. She was drawn to Locke Lord due to the diversity in its attorney ranks, which few other Dallas firms were able to match at the time. The firm also made her feel like a valued asset; she ended up staying for thirteen years.
She also notes that she decided to stay at the firm because she sensed that it would help her develop as an attorney. “I thought, ‘This is where I can grow, where someone might take an interest in my career and mentor me,’” she says.
Parnell not only received support from the firm, but also a wide range of experience that came from working in a variety of roles. After doing what she jokingly calls “baby lawyer work” for a while, she moved into a general litigator role, where she worked on whatever came through the door.
As she became a more senior attorney, her focus narrowed a bit. From 2008 to 2010, during the financial crisis and the recession, Parnell worked on a lot of financial services litigation and became proficient in that area; her work earned her the role of partner in the firm in 2015. As a partner, she represented mortgage companies and financial institutions in state and federal court actions in a variety of contexts, including claims involving wrongful foreclosure, breach of contract, and allegations of fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation.
In 2019, Parnell decided to make the leap from private practice to her current in-house counsel role because she wanted a new challenge. “I felt like I was leaving for college,” she says. “I needed to spread my wings and go do something different.”
The GIRE group that she is part of sits within the litigation section of the legal department at JPMorgan Chase. The group provides legal advice and counsel to the business related to inquiries from law enforcement and regulatory agencies. Though the subject matter differs slightly from her private practice work, she deploys similar skills: Parnell continues to be agile, a quick thinker ready to assess a situation and provide well-reasoned and thoughtful advice.
“It’s made me realize that over the years of practice, I have been able to really hone some of the legal analytical skills you develop as a lawyer,” she says. “It gives me the confidence to go and do things that wouldn’t necessarily be in my wheelhouse—but when you have those baseline skills you’ve developed for years, you think, ‘I can figure this out.’”
Parnell has made an effort to promote diversity both inside and outside her company. Fortunately, she says, JPMorgan Chase is an active partner in this effort. In an open letter signed by Chase’s general counsel and other GCs in September 2020, Parnell was proud to see the company publicly promote the importance of advancing diversity in the legal profession.
Parnell is actively involved with the company’s internal legal diversity groups and was recently named a cochair of one group. In the future, as part of her cochair duties, she hopes to meet corporate and attorney partners in the Dallas area to grow JPMorgan Chase’s relationship with them and collaborate on diversity initiatives.
She’s especially interested in creating a pipeline for diverse attorneys, particularly Black women, to get job and business development opportunities at places like Chase. Together with other Black female attorneys, she founded the Network of Empowered Women Roundtable (NEW) six years ago. She’s still involved in the group, a collection of in-house and private practice attorneys who promote each other’s careers through intentional professional development, networking and mentorship activities.
The group also provides other resources to members to help them achieve their career goals, and currently has more than ninety members from more than thirty law firms and forty in-house legal departments. The mission of NEW is to empower, impact, and influence, Parnell says, and it’s allowed members to get a shot at job and business development opportunities they might not have otherwise gotten.
Locke Lord LLP:
“Locke Lord congratulates Jennifer on this well-deserved recognition. Having worked with Jennifer for more than ten years at Locke Lord, we can say that Jennifer demonstrates intelligence, creativity, and a constant, calm demeanor no matter the circumstances.”
–Rob Mowrey, Partner
Sanders Collins PLLC:
“Jennifer’s attention to detail, judgment, work ethic, and legal instincts are second to none. Having worked with Jennifer for over 10 years, I can attest to her unparalleled acumen, expertise, integrity, and ability to make the complex simple.”
–Jason L. Sanders, Founding Member