It’s no secret that the legal profession has long suffered from a lack of diversity. What’s ironic is that attorneys have historically served on the front lines as powerful voices while championing the equal opportunity rights of women, minorities and those with disabilities.
But do the equity partner rosters at major law firms reflect those cultural diversity views when it comes to their own ranks?
The facts seem to indicate that not to be the case, as most partnership positions are still predominantly held by white males. According to the most recent, 2017 National Association for Law Placement (NALP) survey, approximately 35 percent of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. are female and approximately 15 percent are minorities including African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, LGBTQ and persons with disabilities. Hispanic Americans, LGBTQ and persons with disabilities.
Juxtaposed with those statistics, NALP’s study found that at larger U.S. law firms women fill only 22.7 percent of the partner positions, and minorities a mere 8.42 percent, as of 2017. Their report also revealed that lawyers with physical disabilities promoted to partnership roles are “scarce.” In other words, the legal profession’s upper echelon has failed over the past several decades to “practice what they’ve preached” to the rest of us. On the positive side, that trend is slowly reversing as the law industry’s overdue cultural diversity movement picks up steam due to some changes being implemented by those charged with hiring, retaining and promoting talented lawyers. Here are some of the factors driving this diversity change as it gains traction at the upper levels of the profession.
Firms are Recruiting More Diverse Candidates
Since 2000, women have comprised nearly half of all law graduates, and have made up 47.87% of summer associates, according to the NALP study. Minority law school graduate percentage rates have remained lower; since 2000, minorities have made up of 20-29% of law school graduates. However, graduating from law school or holding a summer associate position doesn’t always equate long-term employment for law school graduates. Talented minority candidates are often rejected from the “best” law schools, while their abilities and talents go overlooked. Talented, hard-working lawyers can come from any school and from a variety of backgrounds, however graduates without big names attached to their resumes can often – and unfortunately – go overlooked. This should not be the case.
Thanks to organizations like the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), law firm decision-makers are learning that there are strong female and minority attorneys graduating from previously-overlooked schools, and that they are ready to produce for their firms. Thanks to the training efforts of LCLD and similar groups, larger firms now use minority and female law school recruitment tactics like:
- Networking at minority job fairs
- Recruiting in minority neighborhoods
- Doing community outreach in minority areas
- Offering scholarships and internships to more women and minority law students
Through these methods, larger firms are now actively marketing their diversity intentions in minority neighborhoods and at less-prestigious law schools in an effort to diversify their attorney rolls.
Diversity-Focused Retention and Promotion Practices
As more major firms recruit and hire women and minorities, they are also looking to retain talented lawyers, and to later promote them. Many lawyers dream of becoming a partner, yet female and minority attorney retention within larger firms has long been a problem for several reasons. It’s not uncommon for minority and female associates to develop a sense of isolation without a peer group within which they can fit well within the firm.
Not being a part of an elite network can induce frustration and facilitate lower retention rates. Many female and minority associates begin to look elsewhere for career advancement opportunities.
Today, that’s changing as prestigious firms are enacting new strategies to bolster female and minority attorney retention. Those methods include:
- Encouraging female and minority attorneys to pursue internal and external career development opportunities while still working at the same firm
- Inspiring them to be involved in local and national bar association groups
- Encouraging participation in LCLD activities, as well as those of similar attorney diversity groups like GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)
- Providing women and minority associates with equivalent career advancement and compensation opportunities within the firm to those of white male lawyers
- Conducting periodic internal firm diversity evaluations to monitor progress
Actively investing in the careers of gifted female and minority lawyers within a firm leads to higher retention rates, more cultural diversity and ultimately to the firm’s ability to recruit diverse, top-quality attorney candidates moving forward.
Good Legal Recruiters Understand Diversity
As prestigious law firms seek more diversity within their partner ranks, one of the resources at their disposal are legal recruiters. Better legal recruiters and recruiting firms have the insider industry know-how and experience to find diverse talent. They are adept at identifying, screening and recruiting quality female and minority attorneys and law students with the potential to improve a firm’s diversity, while further providing them with promotion-worthy talent for years to come. Seasoned law recruiters have nationwide legal networking connections, participate in job fairs, and scour the campuses of numerous law schools, including those typically ignored by big firms. If you’re looking to diversify your firm’s attorney roster, good legal recruiters stand ready to seamlessly guide you through the recruitment-to-hiring process.