BigLaw 'Ghetto'? Former Staff Attorney Raps Covington's D.C. Office

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A former staff attorney at Covington & Burling’s office in Washington, D.C., contends that the law firm is improving its diversity profile by hiring black lawyers for low-level “ghetto” positions.

And, if that’s true, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog suggests, Covington may not be the only BigLaw firm to do so.

Although the firm’s black staff attorneys come from big-name law schools, several white associates and partners graduated from less prestigious institutions, former staff attorney Yolanda Young contends in an article she authored on the Huffington Post blog. Meanwhile, she writes black lawyers account for less than 5 percent of the partners and associates in Covington’s Washington office, but almost one-third of the staff attorneys.

Responding, like other law firms, to pressure from corporations to do so, “Covington has certainly diversified its firm; however, its attorneys are far from equals. The vast majority of Covington’s black attorneys do no substantive work, have no control over their case assignments and no opportunity for advancement,” Young writes. “This seems to be just the sort of structure the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warned against in its 2003 ‘Diversity In Law Firms’ report which stated, ‘In large, national law firms, the most pressing issues have probably shifted from hiring and initial access to problems concerning the terms and conditions of employment, especially promotion to partnership.’ “

However, Covington says in a written statement to Law Blog that the firm is striving to enhance diversity among all categories of attorneys: “Overall, African-Americans are about 5 percent of our combined partners, counsel and associates. While we have had less success in terms of our percentage of African-American lawyers in these groups, it is not because we have made less of an effort, and we are making progress here as well. For instance, roughly 10 percent of the lawyers we hired during the past two years are African-American,” the firm wrote.

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