Attorney David G. Susler can say he served in almost every type of leadership position in the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Chicago Chapter.
The associate general counsel at National Material L.P. first joined the ACC Chicago board in 2004. He took the role of secretary shortly after that and spent two years as the vice president of programs.
But Susler said he always balked at adding the role of president to his list of titles.
"I've been the president of a nonprofit before and I told myself I wasn't going to do it again," Susler said when asked about his goals as an officer in 2008.
But the same reason he became president at REST, a nonprofit homeless services agency in Uptown, drove him to eventually serve as the in-house bar group's president — a role he took over on Monday as Julia E. Jackson's year-long term ended.
"I'm motivated by a desire to give back," he said. "I like to make a difference … that's why I became a lawyer."
As president, he said he gives back to the members of the ACC by helping them understand how to navigate an in-house career.
The organization did the same thing for him when he took his first in-house job in 1999 after working as a personal-injury attorney. Without a corporate law background, he made a nontraditional transition into a corporate legal department, he said.
"Not having a clue the day I walked in the door what (being an in-house lawyer) really meant, I joined the ACC to learn what it means," he said.
And while Susler said he enjoys helping his current colleagues, he said his bigger passion at ACC Chicago lies in mentoring law students through his work with its Diversity Summer Internship Program.
"If I could only do one thing at the ACC, I would run that program," he said. "It's what is most rewarding for me."
That program, which Susler first volunteered for as a mentor in 2005, places diverse law students with internships in Chicago area in-house law departments, ranging in the past from Accenture to Walgreen Co.
The interns receive two mentors as part of the program — one from the corporation they work with and one from the ACC.
Natali Marquez-Ponce, a second-year student at University of Illinois College of Law, interned with Navistar Financial Corp. last summer through the program.
She said it surprised her how much effort Susler put into his role as her mentor, earning him a nickname among the interns as "the dad of the program."
Marquez-Ponce said they bonded over shared life experiences. She said Susler gave her advice on what to expect after her mother's recent cancer diagnosis, something Susler went through at a young age with his own mother. And they talked about the role of strong Latino women in their lives — Marquez-Ponce's mother and Susler's wife.
"I think most people sometimes forget that we're people too and they only focus on our resumes, our cover letters," she said. "And it's difficult for us as students to express ourselves and tell (a mentor) our life story, but with David it's very easy."
The program helped her find more than a mentor, though.
She said it opened her mind to pursuing an in-house career, something she never considered before the internship. It taught her that a company like Navistar "is a lot more than just selling trucks," she said.
For Susler, helping create that kind of opportunity for a diverse law student comes "part and parcel" with an attorney's professional responsibility, he said.
"I think all attorneys have a responsibility to give back," he said. "They also have a responsibility to train the next generation of lawyers."
Just like he can't limit himself to one role within the ACC, Susler said he can't limit himself to just one volunteer mentor program.
He also serves as a member of the Chicago Leadership Council of the Posse Foundation. He said he coaches diverse high school students as they prepare for college tests and applications.
Often times, though, his work with Posse students collides with his ACC mentoring.
For instance, he said he paired a former Posse member, now a 1L Northern Illinois College of Law student, with one of his former ACC interns.
At times, Susler's mentees bring him on board their own volunteer efforts.
For instance, Philip D. Amoa, a Philadelphia-based third-year associate at McCarter & English LLP, said Susler mentored him through the ACC internship in 2008.
The next school year, Amoa said he started the Corporate and Business Law Association at University of Illinois College of Law.
Amoa said "it would be a cool idea" if Susler met with the group and shared some career advice. Susler agreed, Amoa said, and helped organize a panel discussion on in-house career tips with two other attorneys.
Five years later, Amoa said Susler continues to meet with the group each year.
"David, I think, embodies (a mentor) and he goes the extra step to make sure you're achieving what you set out for," Amoa said.
To help facilitate the kind of pass-it-on mentoring, Susler said one of his goals as president involves creating a complete roster of diversity internship alums as the program enters its 10th summer.
He said he aims to boost ACC members' pro bono work by creating more partnerships with organizations. He said he plans to focus on providing more Continuing Legal Education programs.
When asked why he decided to accept the role of president after his initial hesitation, he said it provided the best way for him to continue to serve the chapter.
"I drank the ACC Kool-Aid a long time ago," he said.