Affirmative Action, Akin Gump, Biglaw, Racism

Heated Words Exchanged at Affirmative Action Panel

Sadly, we missed this event because we were still out of town. But yesterday morning, here in Washington, DC, the American Enterprise Institute sponsored an incendiary debate a panel discussion entitled “Are Law Firms Breaking the Law? Racial and Gender Preferences in Attorney Hiring and Promotion.”
Accounts of the event are available from The BLT and the WSJ Law Blog. Here’s a squib from Rob Rogers’s BLT write-up:

Michele Roberts Michele A Roberts Akin Gump Above the Law blog.jpgCurt Levey of the Committee for Justice argued that law firms typically have “no viable defense” for discrimination against non-minority attorneys. Richard Sander of UCLA School of Law, whose research previously has been discussed in Legal Times’ commentary articles (including here), analyzed the hardships that racial preferences can impose on their beneficiaries.

On the other side, Shirley Wilcher, president of Wilcher Global, argued that law firms have a history of discrimination to overcome and some partners still assume that minority associates aren’t as qualified. Michele Roberts [at right], a partner at Akin Gump, questioned whether law-school grades (a key element in Sander’s analysis) were that significant to legal success and pointed out that becoming a partner depends on other factors. (She also said that Akin Gump’s minority associates do not have substantially lower grades.)

We also had a source in the audience. Our tipster’s thoughts — reader discretion advised, no punches are pulled — appear after the jump.

Please note that the comments below come from an ATL correspondent who attended the panel, NOT from us (since we were still in Miami). So if you’re offended by any of this commentary, please do not direct your ire towards us. Thank you.
Here’s the email:

There were four panelists: an anti-affirmative action activist; a very interesting law professor at UCLA; a diversity consultant; and a black female law firm partner.

The diversity consultant was a complete train wreck. Inarticulate and could not go beyond platitudes; she went to Harvard Law School and was basically Exhibit A against affirmative action.

The black law firm partner was very intimidating — thin with extremely short hair and a take-no-s***-from-anyone scowl, you would have liked her — but she seemed to lose a lot of credibility when she maintained to a questioner that she was not aware of any disparity between the academic credentials of the black and white associates at her firm. Pretty much anyone who has worked in a law firm knows that could not possibly be true.

(The UCLA professor revealed data indicating that, if I remember it correctly, the average white associate at top law firms graduated in the top 28% of their law school classes, whereas the average black associate graduated in the bottom 18%.)

As you can tell, our correspondent has some clear and definite views on affirmative action. We’re sure you do too; feel free to set them forth in the comments.
Your Racial Preferences [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]
Debating Law Firms and Affirmative Action (Again) [WSJ Law Blog]

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