September 30, 2009
Benchmark Study Finds Women- and Minority-Owned Law Firms Holding Steady Despite Recession
WASHINGTON − Despite the severity of the recession, a benchmark study by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, Inc. (MCCA) shows that law firms owned by women and minorities are holding their own, with many reporting good earnings and plans to hire more attorneys.
Conducted by MCCA during June and July, Taking the Pulse: A Survey of Women- and Minority-Owned Law Firms (crosbyurl.com/mcca) gathered information on how the economic decline is impacting these firms and what challenges they face.
MCCA received responses from 155 firms, which were minority-owned (45%), female-owned (34%) or minority women-owned (21%) firms. The National Association of Women and Minority-Owned Law Firms, (NAMWOLF), was MCCA’s primary distribution partner. Richard S. Amador, MCCA Board member and partner in the law firm of Sanchez & Amador LLP, a member firm of NAMWOLF, stated, “NAMWOLF was pleased to work with MCCA to distribute the survey. The resulting study provides much-needed data that will assist in-house counsel and minority- and women-owned firms in collaborative efforts to increase opportunity for diverse law firms.”
Other organizations that also helped to distribute the survey included: the National Association of Women Lawyers, the Hispanic National Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the National Conference of Bar Presidents, the Metropolitan Bar Caucus and the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Bar Association.
Twenty-three percent of respondents were solo practitioners, and 95% belonged to firms of 20 or fewer attorneys. The sizes of the surveyed firms were in line with the size of all law firms across the county, according to American Bar Foundation research, from The Lawyer Statistical Report, 1985, 1994 and 2004 editions. For example, most lawyers are solo practitioners, and firms with two to five lawyers are the next most common.
Many of the survey’s questions ask about the impact of the recession on women- and minority-owned law firms:
- Despite the economic downtown, 35% of respondents say their firms plan to hire more lawyers this year, and 55% anticipate no change in staffing. Only 8.7% say they plan to reduce their number of attorneys.
- Fully half (50.3%) of respondents say their firms’ revenue was higher in 2008 than in 2007, and 28% report revenue was about the same. Only 21.5% report a decrease. In comparison to AmLaw 200 firms, the women- and minority-owned firms did relatively well. Of the women- and minority-owned firms, 78.5% reported revenues growing or staying the same in 2008, while only 72.5% of AmLaw 200 firms made the same claim.
Since some smaller firms handle business for large corporations, the survey also examines how much work women- and minority-owned firms get from those companies.
- Some respondents report that a significant portion of their business comes from Fortune 1000 companies. Twelve percent say their firms receive more than 75% of their revenue from Fortune 1000s, and 25% report deriving 50-75% of their revenue from Fortune 1000s. However, nearly half (46%) report receiving no work at all from Fortune 1000 companies.
- Few respondents report gender or race as barriers to obtaining work from major corporations. Instead, many say their size and lack of connections were the chief obstacles. One firm cites a perception among large companies that “a small firm cannot do quality work.” Another notes that “the initial contact, getting the foot in the door, and getting the right person’s attention” is a major impediment.
- Even when women- and minority-owned firms were on corporations’ “approved counsel” lists for cases and new matters, many say this doesn’t always result in work. “We are often notified that we are on the approved counsel list,” one reports. “However, we do not receive assignments and have problems making contact with the people who assign matters.”
Another proponent of the survey, Anthony K. Greene, a director at Jamison Insurance Group and an MCCA Board member, said, “I have long been interested in understanding the issues faced by women- and minority-owned firms. I hope that the findings in this survey cause general counsel and other decision makers in major corporations to reflect how they choose outside legal help and will increase their use of these capable firms.”
At the conclusion of the report, MCCA draws several recommendations from the findings. Among them is the recommendation that corporations should more proactively consider hiring women- and minority-owned firms to handle their legal work, instead of solely turning to large law firms with diverse attorneys. Also, corporations with women- and minority-owned firms on their approved counsel lists should review legal spending to ensure those firms receive equitable consideration and opportunities.
“This study supplies some good news about women- and minority-owned firms,” said Veta T. Richardson, MCCA Executive Director. “Most continue to survive in the face of the worst economic downturn in decades, and many are even poised for growth. However, some continue to be hobbled by lack of access to major sources of business, including access to the right people in large corporations.
“Women- and minority-owned firms are key to a diverse, healthy legal profession. MCCA will continue to partner with like-minded organizations to increase opportunities for these firms. We call on all bar associations to continue addressing the unique needs of the women and minority attorneys in all practice settings.”
For a full report of the results of this MCCA survey, go to the research section of the MCCA website.
The Minority Corporate Counsel Association, Inc. advocates for the expanded hiring, retention, and promotion of minority attorneys in corporate legal departments and the law firms that serve them. Since its founding in 1997, MCCA has emerged as the legal profession’s knowledge leader on diversity issues and its expanded platform offers solutions to diversity management challenges involving women, physically challenged, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lawyers, in addition to attorneys of color (which remains its primary focus).
MCCA advances its mission by publishing innovative research, illuminating diversity best practices, honoring diversity leadership with its prestigious Employer of Choice and Thomas L. Sager awards, and assisting diverse law students through the Lloyd M. Johnson, Jr. Scholarship Program. MCCA’s award-winning programs and services have been cited by several leading organizations, including the National Minority Business Council, Inc., the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National LGBT Bar Association, and the Association of Corporate Counsel.
MCCA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and also has a southeast regional office in Atlanta, Ga. For more information, go to mcca.com