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Study Finds Lawyer ‘Diversity Micro-Climates’; Which Law Firms Do Best?

Posted Aug 1, 2012 8:51 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Minority lawyers are attaining law firm partnerships in significant numbers—but only in certain geographic areas, a new study has found.

Indiana University law professor William Henderson identified regions of the country with “diversity micro-climates” where minority advancement and hiring is more common than in other legal markets. “In specific geographic areas, minority partners are starting to obtain critical mass,” Henderson writes for the NALP Bulletin (PDF). He also summarized his findings at the Legal Whiteboard.

According to Henderson, African American partners are disproportionately located in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.; Hispanics in Houston, Dallas, Miami and Los Angeles; and Asian Americans in Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain region. He based his conclusions on data from the 2005-06 edition of the NALP Directory of Legal Employers, a guide for law firms taking part in on-campus interviewing compiled by NALP–The Association for Legal Career Professionals.

Henderson found that minority associates are disproportionally going to the same geographic markets where their same subgroup has achieved greater partnership percentages.

“Significant diversity tends to exist in pockets that follow distinctive demographic patterns,” Henderson writes at the Legal Whiteboard. “These significant pockets rebut the pessimistic view, held by some, that minority partners lack the skills and ability to be successful in large corporate law firms. Quite the opposite is true—minority lawyers' willingness to enter a market and persist at a firm is likely influenced by number of people from the same minority group who have ascended to the partner level. If you are an African American lawyer, the wind is at your back in D.C. or Atlanta, but in many branch offices in Dallas, Phoenix or Boston you will be breaking barriers.”

Meanwhile, Vault has ranked the top 25 law firms for diversity, Above the Law reports. The top five are:

1) Carlton Fields

2) Ropes & Gray

3) Littler Mendelson

4) Debevoise & Plimpton

5) Jenner & Block

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