A double whammy for diversity

Law firms aren’t just laying off lawyers, they’re laying off racial minority lawyers. A recent Law.com story sets out the detail:

Large U.S. law firms became less diverse last year. That’s the key finding to emerge from the latest version of our annual Diversity Scorecard, which counts attorneys of color in the U.S. offices of some 200 big firms. In each of the previous nine years that we’ve compiled the Scorecard, the percentage of minority attorneys at all participating firms increased, rising from less than 10 percent in 2000 to 13.9 percent in 2008. In 2009, for the first time, that proportion dipped, to 13.4 percent. The drop in law firm diversity may be small, but it’s important. Overall, big firms shed 6 percent of their attorneys between 2008 and 2009 — and, amid the bloodletting, lost 9 percent of their minority lawyers. . . .

The data shows that, while minority lawyers as a whole lost ground, not all groups were affected equally. In proportional terms, African-Americans lost the most: the percentage of all black lawyers fell by 13 percent (462 lawyers), with the number of black nonpartners sliding by a startling 16 percent. Translation: Almost one in six African-American nonpartners left the surveyed firms in the space of a year without being replaced. In raw numbers, Asian-Americans dropped the most, by 9 percent (556 lawyers). The number of Asian-American nonpartners dropped by 11 percent, while the number of partners rose by 6 percent. As for Hispanic lawyers, their numbers dropped by 9 percent overall (282 lawyers). Hispanic nonpartners fell by 13 percent; partners rose by 3 percent.

Meanwhile, another recent Law.com article focuses on diversity declines in law school admissions:

Research by two social scientists suggests that the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings aren’t helping legal educators build a more diverse student body. Deans and admissions officers told the researchers that the pressure to maintain or improve their U.S. News rankings can mean fewer slots for diverse students, who tend to score lower on the LSAT and have lower grade point averages. “Selectivity” — LSAT scores, undergraduate grades and schools’ degree of exclusivity in accepting applicants — accounts for one quarter of each school’s ranking. . . .

“By creating strong incentives for law schools to focus more narrowly on test scores, rankings make it seem more risky to admit diverse students when those students tend to have lower test scores,” the report says. “Moreover, rankings ratchet up the competition for poorer students and students of color with high scores….Administrators say they often feel forced to choose between a higher median LSAT score and a more diverse student body.”

To synthesize: There are no jobs for Black lawyers; but hey, there are no Black law students anyway. Double whammy.

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5 Responses

  1. AYY says:

    Well, they said that if I voted for McCain something like this was going to happen.

    Prof. Wenger, the excerpt you quote talks about the effects of the downturn. Nothing in the excerpt says that Blacks are being discriminated against because they’re Black. That’s what we should really be concerned about rather than some arbitrary numbers.

    The article doesn’t discuss the reason for the reduction. It could be that some are voluntarily leaving big law. As bad as it is to see people losing their jobs, I also don’t want to see people working for big law firms who don’t want to be there, and there are a lot of people who are in big law who would rather not be there. So if they’re leaving for the right reasons, and are going to medium or small firms, or in-house counsel, or somewhere they’d be happier than big law, then more power to them.

    As for there not being any Black law students, are there none at your law school? The website says there’s a Black Law Student Association. Is that not accurate?

    The excerpt talks about the problems of achieving diversity at the expense of test scores. So when you imply that focusing on test scores means that there are no Black law students, aren’t you fostering a stereotype

  2. “Nothing in the excerpt says that Blacks are being discriminated against because they’re Black. That’s what we should really be concerned about rather than some arbitrary numbers.”

    Well, sure. Smart law firms don’t say, “we’re firing you because you’re Black.” Instead, it just _happens_ to be the case that more Blacks get laid off. But surely that’s all just a coincidence.

    “As for there not being any Black law students, are there none at your law school? The website says there’s a Black Law Student Association. Is that not accurate?”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbole

    “The excerpt talks about the problems of achieving diversity at the expense of test scores. So when you imply that focusing on test scores means that there are no Black law students, aren’t you fostering a stereotype”

    Years and years of solid empirical data shows that there is a major racial gap in LSAT scores. This isn’t a stereotype, it’s a well established fact based on empirical data. See, e.g., http://www.lsacnet.org/Research/tr/LSAT-Performance-Regional-Gender-Racial-Ethic-Breakdowns.pdf .

  3. In sports, whenever an all star team is announced, there is some inevitable grousing about someone being left off the list. The standard retort is “okay, who do you take off the team to make room for that person?”

    So it is here – first day of classes at TJ Law, could you have identified some first year white (or of whatever non-KW-favored group you wish) students to whom you would have been willing to say: “You shouldn’t be here, we’d be better off if a black student replaced you”.

    Same thing at law firms – do you really have a better handle on the situation than the law firm partners to suggest that the law firms would have been better off if they had fired/laid off particular white attorneys instead…or are you suggesting that law firms are getting rid of certain more talented and valuable attorneys – who happen to be black – because the partners’ racial animus outweighs their profit motive?

    …or are we just channeling Jesse Jackson here?

  4. Christa says:

    What were the statistics for women?

    I agree with AYY that such numbers are not necessarily caused by discrimination. However, the linked article noted that most African-American lawyers were let go because they billed fewer hours and that in their minds their lack of hours was due to lack of the firm’s “investment” in them. That comment reflects discrimination more than the numbers do.

  5. AYY says:

    Prof. W.
    Thanks for the link to “hyperbole.” I didn’t realize you were hyperbolizing. What threw me off was that you said “to synthesize”. If you would have said “to hyperbolize” I would have picked that right up. So the difference between synthesize and hyperbolize is what threw me off.

    But then I don’t understand why you’d want to hyperbolize about something like this. It just puts everyone down in the dumps. I would have thought you’d want to convey a positive message of encouragement. So maybe that also threw me off.

    As for your other comments, I didn’t say the firms didn’t discriminate. As a matter of fact I wouldn’t put anything past the leftists who run those firms. I just said that the article doesn’t give us any reason to believe they did it this time.

    As for the point about the stereotype, if you’re saying that it’s not a stereotype if it’s based on reality, I’ll admit you might have a fair point. Stereotypes aren’t stereotypes if they’re based on reality. You just might be right on that.