In an environment where hours are scarce, a new report shows that white attorneys are coming out on top. A new survey suggests that African-American attorneys — and minority attorneys in general — are experiencing a greater pinch for hours than their white counterparts. The Minority Law Journal reports:
[M]inority lawyers surveyed said they posted fewer billable hours on average last year than their white counterparts. The average hours billed figure in 2008 was 1,862 for black midlevels, 1,925 for Asian Americans, 1,965 for Hispanics, and 1,976 for whites. And minority lawyers are unlikely to boost their relative output much in 2009. Projected billables for this year were just under 1,825 hours for Asian Americans and African Americans, about 1,840 for Hispanics, and roughly 1,890 for whites.
Hours are low all over, but these numbers indicate the pain is not being shared equally.
Are minority attorneys being “out-hustled” for work, or are these numbers just another manifestation of the old boys’ network?
More numbers from the report after the jump.
It’s not just minority midlevels that are feeling pushed out of work opportunities. Minority partners are being iced out as well. But both problems seem to stem from the historic challenges minorities can face when it comes to developing professional relationships with whites:
As to getting enough of that good work, Veta Richardson, executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, notes that it’s often tied in to building key mentor and partner relationships — something she says has been a chronic challenge for many minority lawyers. “When work becomes less plentiful, it’s not surprising that minorities face significant challenges,” says Richardson, adding that the lack of good work isn’t just affecting associates. She says she has also been getting more calls for help in the last year from minority partners who say they are slowly being forced out of their firms.
Minority attorneys can read the writing on the walls, and they are understandably terrified about what this is all going to look like come performance-review time:
Minority lawyers are also experiencing higher levels of anxiety about layoffs. That was true in our 2008 survey, but this year a greater percentage of associates in all ethnic groups said that the recession has affected them….
As was the case last year, a higher proportion of black midlevels (roughly 13 percent) also reported actively looking for new jobs, compared to just under 8 percent of white and Asian Americans and about 3 percent of Hispanics (by contrast, last year’s survey found that 9 percent of Hispanics were looking for a new job; the reason for the sharp drop is unclear). Likewise, black lawyers were slightly less likely than whites to say they’d still be at their current firm two years from now. What’s more, when midlevels contemplated leaving their firm, African Americans were most likely to cite lack of work as the driving factor. Just under 5 percent predicted that insufficient work would be the main reason for their departures, compared to just under 4 percent for Hispanics, just under 3 percent for whites, and about 2.5 percent of Asians.
It doesn’t sound to me like African-Americans are low on hours because they are not trying as hard as their white colleagues. It sounds to me like minority attorneys are freaked out and doing everything they can, but overall the hours are mysteriously more likely to wind up on the desks of white attorneys. Not by a lot, but by enough to skew the numbers.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t 1980. Generally, minorities are experiencing the same employment difficulties that their white counterparts are experiencing. Minorities are just experiencing more of it. While sad, that is hardly shocking. I’m sure that most minorities know exactly what they are up against.
But in terms of solutions, the only thing minorities can do right now is to keep grinding it out. Keep asking for work, keep trying to forge relationships … and keep documenting all of your efforts. The situation might not be fair, the playing field might not be level, but all that will just make victory (victory = improbable survival) taste all the more sweet.
Survey Shows Recession’s Impact on Minority Associates [Minority Law Journal]
More Black than White Associates Report Too Little Work, Anxiety and Job Search [ABA Journal]
Earlier: New Diversity Rankings