Biglaw, Gender, Minority Issues, Women's Issues

Diversity Issues To Consider Before You Accept Your Offer

There are two ways to make diversity mean something to Biglaw partners. The first involves clients caring about whether or not their legal counsel has made a commitment to diversity. The second involves incoming and lateral talent caring about whether or not they go to a diverse workplace.

But for people to make informed decisions about these issues, they need hard numbers.

Thankfully, we’ve got some hard numbers. Thanks to the hard work of the people at NALP and at Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP), we’ve got some statistics showing that diversity is taking a hit, thanks to recession — but the pain isn’t being spread to all firms evenly.

This is news you can use, especially if you’re considering going to a handful of firms that we’re about to mention….

First, the top level news. According to NALP, the recession has hurt diversity in the legal profession, but it hasn’t been catastrophic. Here’s the National Law Journal’s report on NALP’s numbers:

The latest NALP figures show that minorities accounted for 12.4% of firm attorneys, down from 12.59% in 2009. Women represented 32.69% of firm attorneys, down from 32.97% in 2009.

Minority associates dropped slightly to 19.53% in 2010 from 19.67% 2009. On a more positive note, the percentage of minority partners rose a bit from 6.05% in 2009 to 6.16% this year.

The folks at BBLP have taken a more granular approach to law firm diversity, looking through the lens of associate attrition at top firms. They looked at firm stats from 2009, cross-referenced against stats from 2010, and came up with some very interesting figures on who “disappeared.” The BBLP website allows you to sort the numbers based on gender diversity or racial diversity, by city.

As you play around with the numbers, some firms jump off the page:

  • Kirkland & Ellis: D.C. had 27% female associate attrition, against 0% male attrition.
  • Womble Carlyle: Atlanta lost 7.7% of its male associates, and 50% of its female associates.
  • Baker Botts: D.C., down 1.9% white associates, 27.3% minority associates.
  • McDermott Will & Emery: 48.1% white attrition (a huge number) — but 70.6% minority attrition, which is just absolutely ridiculous.

Play around with the BBLP numbers; you’ll find some crazy stuff there, to be sure.

Obviously, the BBLP numbers can’t tell you why these attrition rates happened, just that they did. And remember, looking at numbers in a vacuum can cut both ways. BBLP reports that Dechert’s NYC office suffered 0% minority attrition from 2009 to 2010, but experienced 53.1% attrition of its white associates. We don’t want firms to be disproportionately firing women and minorities during tough times, but it also wouldn’t be right for a firm to be saving minority and female jobs by holding white males to an impossible standard.

Again, all of this is just more information for 2Ls and lateral hires trying to figure out which firm they should go to. One would hope that people gravitate towards firms that treat everybody fairly and create environments conducive to the success of all their attorneys. A firm that can’t retain women, or can’t retain minorities, or can’t retain white males probably should give good people pause.

Law firm associate attrition rates by gender, minority status, or overall attrition. [Building a Better Legal Profession]
Recession blamed for ‘historic’ decline in law firm diversity [National Law Journal]

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