The report card on law firm diversity is clear: More work to be done
Law firm diversity in most jurisdictions has been a hot item as law firms globally struggle to enhance their diversity. In the US, the pandemic has threatened the efforts by law firms to increase diversity as the recent National Association of Law Placement (NALP) diversity rankings demonstrated.
The most recent survey from Am Law 200 and the National Law Journal surveyed 250 law firms during the 2020 calendar year, including both equity and nonequity partners, as well as associates and others.
Those covered include Asian-American, Black, Latino or Hispanic, Native American and self-described multiracial attorneys. Each firm’s diversity score is calculated by adding the minority percentage of all U.S. attorneys at the firms surveyed to the minority percentage of all U.S. partners at those firms.
The NALP survey
The annual report, released by the NALPin early February, shows “incremental progress” for women and attorneys of color in major U.S. law firms. Drawn from analysis of the NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE), which focuses on Big Law but includes more than 1,000 public and private legal employers and shows little significant progress.
The Vault website looked at the 2021 Big Law firms that showed up best for diversity, with the top 10 being:
- O’Melveny & Myers
- Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete
- Ropes & Gray
- Carlton Fields
- Paul Hastings
- Eversheds Sutherland
- White & Case
- Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe
- Littler Mendelson
- Clifford Chance
Small Firm Solution
While the diversity stats focus on Big Law firms and major institutions, there are small firms doing more than their bit to increase the law firm diversity statistics.
Meyers Nave, a 62-attorney California firm, was one of the first among very few U.S. law firms with a minority woman as managing principal, as reported by AttorneyatWork website. Jayne Williams, former Oakland City Attorney, served as the firm’s managing principal for two terms, from 2004 to 2010. Today, women and minority attorneys make up 77% of Meyers Nave attorneys.
But it wasn’t always this way. Despite Williams’ leadership, the firm still had some “difficult conversations” seven or eight years ago when it committed formally to a more diverse firm and partnership, said principal Eric Casher. Casher chairs the firm’s Diversity Committee and is chair of its Municipal and Special District Law Practice Group and a board member of the California Minority Counsel Program.
Increasing the Diversity Pipeline
Many US law schools, from No. 1 ranked Yale, to Berkeley Law at No. 9, to UC Hastings, at No. 59, are enrolling “majority minority” classes, according to data reported per ABA requirements. This year at Yale, there are 16 1Ls who identify as Black or African American among the 107 minority students. There are 99 white 1Ls in a class of 209.
Bar associations are also doing more to lift law firm diversity, including having outreach programs in which they send panels of diverse attorneys to speak at local colleges.
And law schools are stepping up. UC Hastings, for example, has two programs targeting Black applicants. Its California Scholars program provides a full three-year scholarship to graduates of HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). The college also has an accelerated joint degree program with Spelman College, the top women’s HBCU. Qualified graduates can complete their undergrad and law degrees in six years, with scholarship funding.
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