Affirmative Action, Biglaw, Boutique Law Firms, Feminism, Gay, Gender, Job Searches, Patton Boggs, Racism, Sexism

ATL Field Trip: The Building a Better Legal Profession Press Conference

Andrew Bruck Building a Better Legal Profession Above the Law blog.jpg
Andrew Bruck takes a question at Wednesday’s press conference.

Every now and then, we leave our apartment. We did so on Wednesday, to attend the press conference of Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession, where the organization unveiled its law firm diversity rankings (accessible here; Los Angles Times article here).
It was quite informative. For those of you who might be interested — and we’re guessing there are a number of you, judging from the robust commentary on our earlier post — read more, after the jump.

Andrew Canter Building a Better Legal Profession Above the Law blog.jpg
Andrew Canter, of Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession, speaking at the National Press Club.
Presentations were made by “the two Andrews” — Andrew Bruck and Andrew Canter, a pair of handsome 3Ls from Stanford Law School — and Cynthia Thomas Calvert, co-director of the Project for Attorney Retention (and a former partner at the elite D.C litigation boutique of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin). The rankings were distributed to the assembled guests, and questions were taken.
Here’s a quick summary of the remarks:
Andrew Bruck
— when it comes to diversity, there are real differences between law firms (which often look indistinguishable)
— billable hour requirements, which have been rising, have a disproportionate effect on minorities (esp. women, who remain underrepresented in the legal profession)
— our rankings help students see the differences between firms
— the study results will also be provided to Fortune 500 companies, which often take diversity into account when hiring outside counsel
Andrew Canter
— Building a Better Legal Profession is concerned about escalating billable-hour requirements
— we encourage law students to use their market power to pressure law firms to pay more attention to this problem
— because of the general consistency of salaries across firms, students can, without sacrificing pay, pick a firm to work for based on diversity, pro bono work, billable hours, etc.
— sometimes firms make misleading or dubious claims about their diversity; our rankings allow students to see through such claims
— e.g., Fish & Richardson, which claimed that it was in the top third of large firms in diversity — when it turned out the listing of firms was alphabetical, and they happen to be in the front third of the alphabet
Cynthia Calvert
— these rankings will help law firms, by allowing them to see when their policies to encourage diversity don’t generate results
— the reports will affect the supply and demand for legal talent
— firms can’t afford to neglect diversity, pro bono work, and billable hours, because doing so will make them less desirable places to work, thereby making recruiting more difficult
— it’s not all doom and gloom; there have been positive changes in the profession over the past few years, incl. more part-time partners (incl. men), as well as better pay schemes for attorneys who do work part-time
Question and answer session
Q: Where does this data come from? How current is it?
A: It comes from NALP, and it’s current as of February 2007.
Q: How often will this survey be conducted?
A: Annually.
Q: Any surprises?
A: Sullivan & Cromwell, despite the Aaron Charney business, is #1 in the New York market for openly gay partners. Only two percent of Patton Boggs partners do pro bono work.
Q: What about the argument that large-law-firm practice inherently requires long hours? (this question came from us)
A: Law firms need to realize that their business model encourages associate attrition, which is a serious business problem for them. Large law firms lose $20 million annually to attrition. Clients don’t like attrition either, because when associates leave, they take institutional knowledge with them (and new associates need to be trained).
Interesting sidenote (from Cynthia Calvert): Back in the mid-1980s, 1650-1700 in billable hours was considered full-time work for lawyers in Washington, DC. It was even lower than that before.
Q: What about midsize or boutique law firms as kinder, gentler alternatives to Biglaw? (also from us)
A: There’s wide variation here. At some small firms, you work very hard, just to make sure you have enough business, can pay the rent and the secretary, etc. But some small firms have low billable hours and are still thriving economically. Large law firms can learn from these new models of legal practice.
Q: What about firms with two-track systems, where lawyers can decide how much they want to bill? Are they a viable solution to the problem of attrition?
A: Possibly, but we need to do more research on this. Do two-track systems create a stigmatized “mommy track”? Some firms say they don’t disclose who is on which track, but some sources at those firms find laughable the notion that you don’t know who is on which track.
Big L.A. law firms score low on diversity survey [Los Angeles Times]
Diversity Report Card: New York [PDF]
Diversity Report Card: D.C. [PDF]
Law Students Building A Better Legal Profession [official website]
Report on Big Law Firms [National Press Club]
Earlier: Law Firm Diversity: Who’s Naughty, Who’s Nice?

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