While some law firms have recognized the need to increase diversity as a business imperative, others have just recently begun to design programs to attract talented minority attorneys..
According to the Miles To Go 2000: Progress of Minorities in the Legal Profession report, law firm diversity is somewhat an oxymoron. The following statistics support this statement: attorneys of color represent only 3.25 percent of all partners and 12.06 percent of all associates at all law firms nationwide. As of 1998, minorities made up 13.0 percent of all associates and 3.2 percent of all partners in the largest 250 law firms in the United States, compared to more than 25 percent of the general population.
Additionally, this dearth of diversity in law firms is neither without exceptions nor critics. In 1998, Charles Morgan, general counsel and executive vice president at BellSouth Corporation, published the “Statement of Principle,” strongly urging law firms to utilize minority and women attorneys on corporate legal matters and to increase the diversity of their staff at all levels. At the time, he indicated that law firms were behind the curve on hiring minority attorneys, and especially on exposing these individuals to influential clients and other career growth opportunities. The Statement was later signed by 300-plus general counsel, including many from Fortune 500 companies, whom together represent almost $30 billion in legal purchasing power. The collective buying power and influence of these corporate law departments could not be ignored and as early as 1999, some law firms began to partner with corporations, minority bar associations, and law schools to increase the diversity of their attorneys.
While some law firms have recognized the need to increase diversity as a business imperative, others have just recently begun to design programs to attract talented minority attorneys. Recruiting minorities has traditionally been the biggest challenge for law firms and will continue to be difficult, especially given the impact of decisions in Texas and California to ban affirmative action from all admissions policies. However, retention of all attorneys is the number one problem facing law firms that are eager to change.
David Wilkins of Kirkland & Ellis and a professor of law at Harvard Law School, argues that there are five main reasons why law firms have failed to increase the diversity of their attorney base:
- adopting a framework that ignores the real problems facing minority lawyers: access to important assignments and training opportunities that every associate needs to develop sophisticated legal skills;
- focusing on the wrong problem —recruitment of minority and women attorneys is the first step not the end goal of legal diversity efforts;
- missing important connections —attempts at racial integration are considerably more difficult than gender integration, but separating race and gender ignores the situation for minority women;
- emphasis on misleading standards to justify or derail diversity initiatives (for example, diversity will improve the bottom line or focusing on diversity too much lowers standards); and
- advancing the wrong solutions —many diversity efforts focus on superficial problems such as cosmetic changes to the hiring classes instead of the values or procedures which have traditionally been used to define success and to manage/reward/ punish attorneys’ performance that has created the problem and continue to drive attrition rates.
Whatever the reasons, MCCA is committed to both honoring and stimulating change through comprehensive analysis, surveys, and best practices research. Last year, MCCA completed the first phase of the Creating Pathways to Diversity™ Research Project, a three-year effort to study how corporate law departments and law firms design, implement, and monitor their diversity progress. By collecting and reporting on diversity best practices in law firms and law departments, MCCA will focus on creating effective professional skills development programs for minority attorneys, which include mentoring and community outreach. The Pathways concept is as follows:
COMPLIANCE brings people into an organization.
DIVERSITY demonstrates an appreciation for their differences.
INCLUSION creates an environment in which people want to stay.
In the first year, Pathways revealed that, with respect to their diversity efforts, most corporate law departments can be placed on a spectrum from compliance with federal regulations to inclusion. Their transition and progress through these stages are facilitated by integrated initiatives that align diversity goals with strategic, business goals.
Continuing its tradition of innovative research in diversity, MCCA plans to conduct a diversity best practices research project in law firms with the following objectives:
- provide a database and profile of current law firm diversity planning, implementation, and representation;
- qualify and illuminate the best practices for the design and implementation of diversity initiatives in law firms;
- identify the business case for diversity (where money is being lost or gained and where to go in the future to increase gains and decrease costs); and
- outline a strategy with programs and metrics that law firms can use to increase the recruitment, retention, and promotion of minority and women attorneys.
This research project is a three-year effort to provide solutions for law firms to increase the diversity of their legal staff through internal and external, collaborative initiatives. Part I will include an in-depth, data-driven analysis balancing quantitative and qualitative findings about the diversity practices and plans in law firms. It will identify:
- critical success factors in successful initiatives;
- new common barriers/challenges to diversity;
- a business case for diversity;
- a database of law firm diversity;
- how to exhibit leadership on diversity issues; and
- how to leverage diversity as a market differentiating factor with corporate law departments and become a provider of choice.
As indicated earlier, there are two parts to this research project:
Law Firm Benchmarking Survey
MCCA, in collaboration with eLawForum, will administer a survey to law firms about their diversity efforts on the eLawForum website, located at www.eLawForum.com. A composite of the total data collected through the survey will be available on the eLawForum website to corporate law departments who are MCCA members as well as those law divisions already registered with eLawForum. This data will be analyzed and reported in the aggregate, without identifying information. It will be used to evaluate and bolster a tentative list of best practices, which will be further examined using the feedback received from MCCA’s third-party consultant during a series of focus groups (see below). The survey is available now online at www.eLawForum.com.
The purpose of a focus group is to collect qualitative data through the open expression of opinions and anecdotes concerning the diversity efforts of their law firms. To ensure that all participants are comfortable, MCCA will conduct four sets of focus groups from the following demographic groups: men of color, women of color, white women, and white men. The focus groups will take place in the following cities:
- March 21, 2001 Chicago, IL
- March 29, 2001 Washington, DC
- April 3, 2001 San Francisco, CA
- April 12, 2001 Houston, TX
Of course, all information divulged to MCCA’s third-party research consultant will be treated as strictly confidentialand will be reported without identifying information. A confidential discussion forum assures participants that comments will not be attributed to any individual or firm. The data collected from these focus groups is essential to analyzing which diversity practices work best, and those that may require improvement. The data will not be tabulated or reported in any way, which would result in the critique of any particular organization or individual and/or its specific diversity programs. All results will be reported solely in the aggregate.
Participation is free and confidential. Firms do not have to submit a completed survey in order to participate at the focus groups, although we do ask that all attorneys have a minimum of three to five years of experience. The deliverables for the project will be a report of the study’s findings and a database of current law firm diversity information for all to share. The research results will also be presented at MCCA’s 2nd Annual Conference, Creating Pathways to Diversity™, which will be held in conjunction with the MCCA Diversity Dinner on October 23, 2001 in New York at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.
All MCCA supporting law firms will share in the results of the study as follows:
- receive a preliminary report of the aggregate data collected by the benchmark survey;
- receive a free copy of the final best practices report prepared by MCCA;
- receive placement in the acknowledgements section (with the firm’s permission) of the written report and in Diversity & the Bar, the official magazine of MCCA, which is published quarterly in conjunction with American Lawyer Media and distributed to 30,000 attorneys nationwide as an insert to Corporate Counsel magazine;
- acknowledgement (with the firm’s permission) in the October conference materials and a connection with MCCA’s Diversity Dinner Series.
- For more information, contact us at email@example.com.
From the June 2001 issue of Diversity & The Bar®