Diversity—or Lack of Diversity—in “Biglaw”
The American Lawyer recently issued its 2016 Diversity Scorecard on how Biglaw firms in the U.S. rate when it comes to the percentage of minority attorneys working in their offices. The numbers are dismal, maintaining the legal profession’s negative distinction as the least diverse white-collar profession. According to the survey, just 15% of attorneys working in Am Law 200 firms represent a minority; of that number, just 8% are partners in Biglaw firms, up slightly from last year.
Compared to a national average of 38% of ethnic minorities in the general U.S. population, Biglaw has work to do with regard to diversity and inclusion. According to the National Association for Law Placement’s own employment data, Asian-Americans represent the largest number of ethnic minorities in Biglaw firms with approximately 6%, while African-Americans represent the smallest number at just 3% of associates at Am Law 200 firms.
Diversity in Law Schools
Surprisingly, the slow growth in minority lawyers among Biglaw firms does not reflect the number of minority law school graduates. In the last 16 years, the number of law school graduates that represent a minority has risen from 20% to 26%. Even though law school enrollment has been down by nearly half in the last 10 years, the percentage of law school graduates that represent a minority continues to increase.
With more diverse candidates graduating from law school, diversity among Biglaw firms should improve, however, recruiting and retaining diverse candidates continues to be a challenge. Firms still struggle to close the minority gap and diversify their legal teams, even though reports suggests that diversifying law firms could pay off both socially and financially. The report shows that in-house counsel and government clients prefer to hire law firms that have diverse attorneys on their teams. In its survey to nearly 1,800 general counsel on legal diversity, American Lawyer also found that diverse legal teams accounted for a larger share of general counsel legal spending. Diversity was defined by gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, LGBT identification, age and/or years of experience.
Small growth in terms of diversity hiring and recruiting is not the only problem that Biglaw firms face. Many struggle to retain diverse associates. Ethnic minorities often leave firms, believing there are no growth opportunities to make partner. Women with children tend to leave Biglaw firms for smaller firms or in-house opportunities that tend to offer more work-life balance such as less demanding schedules, or, in some cases, remote work opportunities.
How can your firm close the diversity gap and recruit and retain more diverse legal professionals?
4 Tips for Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Lawyers
- Recruit summer associates and law school graduates from Historically Black College and University (HBCU) law schools. Many Biglaw firms recruit and partner with one of the six law schools identified as a HBCU such as Howard University School of Law. Just touted by the American Bar Association, Howard Law grads have been getting major attention from Biglaw firms for almost 40 years. Howard Law has a long-standing recruiting and alumni pipeline to help recruit and retain top students to participate in summer associate programs and later enter the firm as associates.
- Ensure hiring committees include diverse members. Diverse hiring committees help with recruiting diverse candidates. Not diversifying hiring committees can result in candidates not accepting offers. Diverse candidates tend to take note when the hiring committee consists of only white, older men. Include ethnic minorities, women and working parents on your firm’s hiring committee.
- Partner with diverse local bar organizations such as Hispanic and African-American bar associations. Such organizations often host annual galas, fundraisers and monthly meetings open to all members of the bar. It’s a great way to network with diverse lawyers and recruit them to join your firm.
- Offer support and mentoring to diverse attorneys to ensure they have a clear and strong growth opportunity. Law firms with diverse leadership will have an easier time recruiting diverse lawyers. Have a clear succession plan in place to retain and nurture not just minority lawyers, but all lawyers on your staff.
At Special Counsel, we have extensive experience sourcing qualified, diverse legal professionals, from staff attorneys to partners. If your office is ready to build a more diverse team, contact one of our locations to get started.
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