The Road to More Minority Partners?

This past weekend, I spoke at Georgetown Law Journal’s symposium on post-racialism. It was a great symposium. Congratulations to the student editors!

The scheduled roundtable discussions during the event focused on diversity in law firms. One of the issues discussed was the low number of minority attorneys, especially partners, at law firms. At many firms, there are no or just one or two minority partners within each racial group (Only 20% of all partners are women.). Even at firms with a more sizeable number of minority associates, those associates tend to leave the firms by the fourth or fifth year.

Undoubtedly, it is harder to imagine one’s self as a partner at a law firm when there is no one who looks like you among those ranks. How can firms address what seems to be a never-ending cycle? Some firms have lateraled partners in from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, though often not of color, in order to gain someone with significant trial experience.  Given that government attorneys tend to be a much more racially and ethnically diverse group than firm attorneys, even at the associate level, are these lateral possibilities one good route for diversifying the partnership ranks?

Also, to the extent that changing firm cultures may help in increasing numbers, how can firm cultures ever change if the only minorities who enter into the firms are associates, who often feel that they have no voice?

Thoughts? Comments?

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5 Responses

  1. black anon says:

    I don’t think it’s a problem that there are few minority partners. I think the real problem is that too few minorities start their own firms. With all of the people of color that graduate from law schools, there should be at least one large firm started by minorities!

  2. Err, that’s the problem, black anon. There historically haven’t been a large number of people of color graduating from law schools. In fact, you go back a few decades and the numbers are pretty bad. And of course, that’s the generation (or older) who create the major Wall Street firms.

    There are many small firms that have been started by minority attorneys. And in the next few decades, some of these will doubtless grow larger, merge with existing firms, and eventually form new big firms. But it’s going to be a gradual process.

  3. Angela Onwuachi-Willig says:

    Black anon, you may find this article of interest: Wilkins, David B. “If You Can’t Join ’em Beat ’em! The Rise and Fall of the Black Corporate Law Firm,” 60 Stan. L. Rev. 1733 (2008).

  4. black anon says:

    As a black graduate of HLS, KDW, I know that my classmates who actually wish to practice corporate/firm style lawyering will not go on to create black firms. It’s sad but true. I think the same holds true for most schools and other minority groups. The minority students there want to reach the height of existing firms; they don’t want to create their own firms. I personally think that the best path to more minority partners is through more minority firms.

    AOW, I read that article before. I really enjoyed it. Wilkins was one of my mentors (or whatever) at HLS.

  5. ParatrooperJJ says:

    How about picking the most qualified partners and not worry about race or gender? That’s what clients really want.