Looking at Law Firm Diversity Statistics and the Stories They Tell

During the 1990s, I spent quite a few years on my firm’s hiring committee. For most of those years, I was on the Steering Committee of the St. Louis Minority Clerkship Program, an effort made to increase diversity in St. Louis law firms by placing minority law students in summer jobs at St. Louis law firms and corporations.
Wendy Werner, then Assistant Dean for Placement at St. Louis University Law School, and Chip Misko, now at Stinson Morrison Hecker in St. Louis, were co-chairs of the committee in a number of those years. At one time, this program was the second-largest program of its kind in the US.
Wendy and I were talking a while back about that program. There were some great young lawyers who went through that program. Some have gone on to do quite well, although almost in every case not with the firm they spent the summer with.
However, when I look at the numbers today, I struggle to see that the effort had any impact on increasing the numbers of minorities in St. Louis law firms. It’s frustrating if you look at the goal of increasing representation in larger St. Louis law firms, but, as I said, many “graduates” of the internship program have gone on to do extremely well.
I grew to believe that retention was the biggest issue, and the answers to the questions about retention do not seem to be easy ones for most firms.
I told Wendy that I’d like to see current statistics just to get a sense of where we were after 10 – 12 years.
Wendy sent me today a link to an article called “Women and Attorneys of Color Continue to Make Only Small Gains at Large Law Firms.”
The article sets out some thought-provoking statistice about diversity issues in law firms. It’s worth remembering in this context that I believe that Georgetown University Law Center either reached or came very close to reaching a 50/50 male/female ratio for law students while I was there in 1980 – 83.
From the article:
“Recent research from NALP reveals that attorneys of color account for 4.32% of the partners in the nation’s major law firms and that women account for 17.06% of the partners in these firms.”
Compare 1993, when “attorneys of color accounted for 2.55% of partners and women accounted for 12.27% of partners.”
As the article notes, “the presence of women comes nowhere near to matching their presence among law school graduates, which has ranged from 40% to almost half since the late 80′s. Similarly, the percentage of minority graduates has doubled, from 10% to 20% during the same time period.”
What struck me about the article is the way the statistics illustrate the retention issue.
“Women attorneys hold 43.36% of associate or staff/senior attorney positions and attorneys of color hold 15.06% of these positions.”
Let me emphasize those numbers:
Women
Associates/staff attorneys 43.36%
Partners 17.06%
Attorneys of Color
Associates/staff attorneys 15.06%
Partners 4.32%
Of course, there are stories, reasons, variations by geography, and special circumstance behind these numbers, but the numbers, at minimum, suggest that something is not working the way it should be. I don’t mean to assess any blame, but I don’t think anyone will think that these numbers are good. We certainly can do better, probably much better.
The current pressures and environments in law firms, especially large law firms, make it unlikely that we will see movement of these numbers in a positive direction soon. Law firms are grinding up male associates and young partners at an alarming rate, too.
However, I hate to throw in the towel. There should be some new and creative ways to deal with these issues. I have a few ideas that I haven’t tried out yet. I know that Wendy has others. Others of you certainly have better ideas than I do. It’s worth making the effort.
If you’ve ever heard me speak on the future of legal technology and the Internet, you know that I like to end with some comments on the role that technology, especially the Internet, can play in both improving diversity and in helping people understand the important role diversity will play in the success of any organization or venture as we move into the 21st century. This topic has moved back on my radar screen for 2005.
How about yours?