Law Practice Management

Pipeline and Lateral Recruiting Blamed for Stagnating Diversity Stats

The proportion of minority lawyers at the nation’s largest and most profitable law firms has increased from 10.4 percent in 2005 to 13.9 percent in 2009, but not every law firm is reporting increased diversity.

The Minority Law Journal’s Diversity Scorecard found that more than 12 percent of the law firms reported that their percentage of minority lawyers stayed the same or dropped during that time period, the National Law Journal reports.

Some law firm leaders are attributing their stagnating numbers to cuts in summer associate programs, too few minority law grads, and a push to improve profits by recruiting lawyers with big books of business—a group that is mostly white and male.

Among the firms with diversity numbers that have not improved over the last four years are Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal; Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice; Greenberg Traurig; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; and Lowenstein Sandler. (Despite steady or declining numbers, some of the firms still have percentages of minority lawyers higher than the national average.)

Helise Harrington, diversity partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, told the National Law Journal that the firm’s percentage of minority partners has gone up slightly, but overall there has been a decline in minority lawyers. Harrington attributes the drop to several factors, including the firm’s strategic plan to boost its financial rankings in the AmLaw 100.

Harrington told the publication that Sonnenschein is trying to improve its financial ranking by recruiting lateral lawyers with large books of business—a category that typically is made up of white men. She also said the law firm has relied on its summer associate program to recruit minorities, but the law firm is reducing the number of spots in the program and the number of offers to new associates, leaving fewer spots for minorities.

Keith Vaughan, chairman of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, said he couldn’t identify a specific reason why its percentage of minorities remained steady at 6 percent. One problem, he said, is the fairly limited pool of minority law graduates. “My perception is that you have a certain number of minorities coming out of law school and everybody is trying to recruit them,” he told the NLJ.

Currently, minorities make up 21.9 percent of enrollment at ABA-approved law schools, just a slight increase over 2004, when 21 percent of law students were minorities.

The legal profession lags behind other professions in its diversity numbers, according to Census Bureau statistics cited by the National Law Journal. In 2007, blacks, Asians and Hispanics made up 11.8 percent of all U.S. lawyers, 19.9 percent of dentists, 25.5 percent of accountants and auditors, and 27.7 percent of physicians and surgeons.

Related coverage: “More Black than White Associates Report Too Little Work, Anxiety and Job Search”

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