Partner promotion photo shows little diversity; law firm blames 'idiosyncratic demographic pool'

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Law firm partnership announcements are drawing scrutiny as critics question why women and minorities appear to be underrepresented.

One law firm battered by LinkedIn commenters was Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, the New York Law Journal reports. Its online photo of 12 new partners showed just one woman. The others appeared to be white men.

Among the in-house counsel expressing dismay on LinkedIn was Michelle Fang, chief legal officer at car-sharing company Turo. In an interview with the New York Law Journal, she said that other law firm announcements probably look pretty similar.

Fang believes it’s important for corporate counsel to reward law firms that champion diversity and inclusion in how they promote and hire people. “White males don’t have a monopoly on talent,” she said.

Last year, women made up 38.1 percent of new partners, an increase of about a percentage point from 2016, according to the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance.

Several law firms announcing partner promotions this year have dipped below that percentage, according to the New York Law Journal. They include Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, which recently promoted five people to partner—all of them male.

In a statement to the New York Law Journal, Paul Weiss chairman Brad Karp said its new partnership class has one woman, one Latino and one LGBTQ partner, making it 25 percent diverse. He said the gender and racial imbalance “resulted from an idiosyncratic demographic pool and which I can assure you will not be repeated.”

Paul Weiss has been rated as one of the top 25 most diverse law firms on the American Lawyer’s diversity scorecard for 15 consecutive years, the law firm pointed out in a press release this year.

About a third of the firm’s partnership is diverse, including women, people of color and LGBTQ partners, Karp said. The firm’s deputy chair is a woman, and more than 30 percent of the firm’s practice groups and departments are led by women, he said.

“Our percentage of female, African-American and LGBTQ partners and associates greatly exceeds the average for New York and U.S. law firms,” Karp told the New York Law Journal.

The controversy comes amid reports showing women and minorities are making gains in large law firms. The American Lawyer summarizes the findings of the 2018 Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey in stories here and here.

Nearly 17 percent of law firm attorneys were members of a racial or minority group last year, a percentage that is steadily growing. But minorities made up 22 percent of the group leaving law firms in 2017.

Nearly 36 percent of law firm attorneys were female, up from 35 percent in 2016. Women made up 23 percent of all partners and more than 20 percent of equity partners.

The percentage of female lawyers leaving law firms has hovered between 40 and 41 percent for the last 11 years; however, women of color are overrepresented among lawyers who leave their firms.

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