The Dallas Diversity Task Force’s 2013 report shows that not only is diversity not improving at the city’s biggest firms, it is getting worse.
None of the 19 largest firms meet even minimum standards for recruiting, hiring, promoting and retaining minority lawyers, according to the study, which is conducted annually by the African-American, Hispanic and Asian bar associations of Dallas.
“Clearly, the results are not good,” said Rosa Orenstein, a partner at Sullivan & Holston and chairwoman of the task force. “I know the wheels of justice turn slowly, but diversity in Dallas is improving at a glacial pace. In fact, the situation has become regressive.
“We have to try to figure out what is going on and how to fix it.”
The diversity task force report has some astounding statistics, including:
Only 1 percent of the 799 equity partners at the largest law firms in Dallas are African-American.
Thirteen of the 19 firms have no African-American partners, and five of the firms have only one.
Only 2.5 percent of partners are Hispanic, and eight of the large firms have no Hispanic partners.
The attrition rate among minority partners is more than double the rate of white partners.
While two-thirds of Dallas County’s population is nonwhite, less than 12 percent of lawyers at the 19 big firms are minorities.
Even when law firms succeed at hiring more minority leaders, they have a pathetic retention rate. The report shows that African-American and Hispanic senior associates and partners leave the big law firms at more than twice the rate of their white counterparts.
The statistics have many law firm leaders scratching their heads.
“Many of us felt 15 years or so ago that we were on a real trajectory toward improvement, but these numbers are very depressing,” said Rob Walters, managing partner of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Dallas.
“At the end of the day, lawyers stay at their law firm because they are successful there, but minorities are leaving because they don’t feel they are experiencing that success,” Walters said. “That’s where law firms need to focus.”
Not good enough
Most big law firms say they are making efforts to improve diversity, but those efforts are not leading to significant results, according to the study’s authors.
The report found that 95 percent of the law firms participated in minority job fairs but that only 26 percent hired someone from the fair — a decline from 46 percent just one year ago.
Likewise, two-thirds of the law firms recruited at law schools where minorities constitute a majority of the student body, but only 1 in 6 firms hired a student at one of those schools.
“The numbers are bad and not what they should be, but there is no ill will or bad intent by the leaders of these law firms,” said Clarence Brown, an associate general counsel at Contran Corp. and Valhi Inc.
Brown, who is president of the Dallas chapter of the General Counsel Forum, said there are many contributing factors behind the diversity problems, including a slow economy, a smaller pipeline of talented young minorities going to law school and increased competition for minority lawyers by corporate legal departments and small litigation boutiques.
“In addition, law firms are inherently bad managers of people,” Brown said. “By the time most law firms realize their young, talented minority lawyers are frustrated and looking to leave, it is too late. Others have snatched them up.”
Clients can insist
Brown and others say that corporate clients of the big firms need to play a role.
“In-house lawyers can be far more potent in helping fix this problem than even law firm managing partners,” said Walters, the former general counsel at Energy Future Holdings.
“General counsels need to get granular by demanding diversity on the outside legal teams working on their projects,” he said. “They need to make minority partners team leaders and the client’s primary contact. That’s where the influence and power lies at big law firms. Clients can absolutely insist on this.”
Several corporate legal departments, including AT&T, Verizon and Exxon Mobil, require their outside law firms to have a diverse group of lawyers handling their legal matters.
Hope Shimabuku, a former assistant general counsel at BlackBerry in Texas and a member of the diversity task force, agreed that corporate clients could have an “enormous influence” on the diversity problem.
“If there is recognition within a company that diversity is an issue from the highest levels, then that value is pushed out even to the level of hiring diverse counsel,” she said. “This push doesn’t necessarily even need to originate internally but can flow from the supply chain as well.”
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