Law Firms

Is US suffering from 'diversity fatigue'? Bar president says country is 'at a precipice'

In many fields, the percentage of blacks in leadership roles is stalling, raising questions about the private sector’s commitment to affirmative action.

John Page, president of the National Bar Association, tells the New York Times that the country is “at a precipice.” Says Page: “There is diversity fatigue. We could fall backwards very quickly.”

The Times focuses on the statistics as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to the use of a race as a factor in admissions at a public university. The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, could be decided as early as this week.

The Times has these numbers:

• The percentage of lawyers who are minorities and women fell in 2010, according to NALP, the association for legal career professionals. The dip was the first since NALP began keeping statistics in 1993. Statistics released in December 2012 found that minorities now make up 12.91 percent of lawyers at law firms and 6.71 percent of law firm partners, a slight increase from the previous year. Women made up 32.67 percent of lawyers in law firms in 2012 overall, and 19.91 percent of partners.

• Blacks hold only about 1 percent of the CEO positions in the Fortune 500, and only about 3.2 percent of senior executive positions, according to an estimate by the Executive Leadership Council.

• About 5 percent of physicians and dentists in the United States are black.

The Times focused on minority numbers at law firms in Texas. At Houston law firms, blacks made up 2.65 percent of the partners and 4.74 percent of associates. At Thompson & Knight, for example, the portion of minority lawyers has fallen from 15 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2011. Managing partner Emily Parker told the Times that other top firms had a drop in minority lawyers over the same period. The firm’s new hiring partner in Houston is black, it offers law school scholarships for minorities, and it remains committed to diversity.

San Antonio lawyer Lisa Tatum, an African American who will soon be president of the State Bar of Texas, told the Times of concerns about diversity. “There’s no question there’s been some pullback,” Tatum told the Times. “There are some firms that look at what they have done, they look at President Obama, and they say we’re there.”

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