All You Need To Know About Law Firm Diversity

The American Lawyer released its Diversity Scorecard 2010 issue this week.  Reading it, we were reminded of that quote often attributed to Malcolm X:  When White America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia.

Full report here:  Before reading the highlights provided below, you might want to take a Xanax.

One Step Back:  For the first time in years, the population of minority lawyers at big law firms is shrinking.

The drop in law firm diversity may be small, but it’s important. Overall, big firms shed 6 percent of their attorneys between 2008 and 2009–and, amid the bloodletting, lost 9 percent of their minority lawyers. (Here and elsewhere in this story, we’ve calculated such percentages only for the 191 firms that provided numbers in both years, in order to have a consistent basis for comparison.) Diversity advocates call the drop a warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored. “I think [that] when you’re looking at any numbers of a population you’re trying to increase, and you see a decrease, that’s significant,” says Venu Gupta, executive director of the Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms. “I guess I hoped we wouldn’t be going backward,” echoes Fred Alvarez, chair of the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession and a Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati partner.

In Retreat:  The legal industry’s wave of recession-induced layoffs appears to have hit African American associates particularly hard.

The legal industry’s wave of recession-induced layoffs appears to have hit African American associates particularly hard. At the 191 firms that took part in our survey this year and last, the absolute number of African American associates fell from 2,826 to 2,362. In 2008, African Americans made up 4.7 percent of the broader nonpartner pool; in 2009, they were down to 4.4 percent–a 16 percent decline that did not surprise some.

But wait, there is some good news after the jump…

Swimming Against the Tide:  Fourteen large firms lost at least 10 percent of their U.S. head count and still upped their percentage of minority lawyers.

Fourteen large firms lost at least 10 percent of their U.S. head count and still upped their percentage of minority lawyers. And while they may not have actually added many minority lawyers, at least they avoided large net losses. One of the biggest improvements came at Dallas-based Winstead (rising from number 87 to number 66 on the Diversity Scorecard), where the percentage of minority lawyers rose from 11.4 percent to 13.4 percent. Winstead had a net gain of one minority lawyer while laying off or accepting the voluntary departures of 13 percent of its lawyers. “There was no pointed effort to save minority lawyers from layoffs,” says Winstead partner Teresa Schnei der, the firm’s director of professional development. “Our numbers simply illustrate the importance we put on diversity in years past.” The firm retooled its diversity program starting in 2007, she says, nearly tripling its diversity budget and hiring a consultant who revamped Winstead’s recruiting efforts to better account for minority applicants. The firm also tied practice group leaders’ compensation to their ability to recruit minority lawyers.

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