Digging Into Legal Diversity Rankings

For the fourth year in a row, White & Case scored the highest ranking in The American Lawyer’s annual diversity report, which measures the largest U.S. law firms based on the percentage of minority lawyers they have at the firm and in their partner ranks.

The report, published in May, showed that White & Case’s 656 U.S. lawyers are comprised of 33.4 percent minority attorneys and 20.6 percent minority partners. Minority is defined in the scorecard as Asian-American, African-American, Latino or Hispanic, Native American and self-described multiracial.

Meanwhile, the firm ranked No. 5 in terms of minority representation in equity partnerships, with 18.8 percent representation in that demographic. Best Best & Krieger had the highest percentage of minority lawyers in its equity partnership (20 percent), yet it ranked 12th on the overall diversity scorecard.

The overall AmLaw diversity scorecard on which White & Case ranked No. 1 is calculated by adding a firm’s percentage of minority attorneys with its percentage of minority partners. This ranking system has been in place since 2009, when AmLaw added the partner percentages in order to “stress the importance of hiring and promoting minority attorneys to partnership positions.” Before that, scorecards simply measured the percentage of minority attorneys at each firm.

White & Case, which has consistently topped diversity rankings by The American Lawyer, formalized its diversity and inclusion efforts through a full-time director of diversity inclusion and an executive partner who oversees diversity committees in the US, London, and around the world, according to the firm’s website. The firm also supports numerous affinity groups and professional development programs for attorneys of diverse backgrounds.

A representative for White & Case declined to comment for this story.

 

Diversity Data as a Scorecard

Gabrielle Brown, director of diversity and inclusion for the New York City Bar, said the metrics can only measure so much.

“There are such a wide array of options to consider diversity and progress, and this is such a narrow perspective,” said Brown.

For instance, a firm could have high overall diversity, but low percentage of minority partners. Even in this instance, it’s difficult to know why there aren’t more minority partners, she said — whether the firm is struggling to retain diverse lawyers, or if there has been an effort to hire younger diverse attorneys.

Brown said, in her opinion, lists like AmLaw’s Diversity Scorecard are helpful inasmuch as they are used to highlight success stories. “I think that if we use this as a way to model what White & Case is doing … then we could see some change,” she said. “If we’re just putting people on blast, it’s problematic, and it could stall progress.”

Gina Passarella, Executive Editor of The American Lawyer, agreed that ranking firms alone “won’t come close to solving the diversity problem” and said they are “just one small piece” of AmLaw’s reporting on why firms continue to struggle with diversity in their ranks.

“We would hope that highlighting that challenge, through both data and editorial content, would not stall diversity efforts, but spur a desire to improve and offer access to best practices from the industry,” she told Big Law Business via email. “Sometimes, it isn’t until hard data is presented that people or organizations are compelled to change. The numbers don’t serve to say the firms created the problem, but they do make it clear there is a problem to solve.”

Many firms that have invested heavily in diversity and inclusion efforts did not make the top of AmLaw’s diversity scorecard, according to Brown. For example, Brown Rudnick recently hired a dedicated director of diversity and inclusion and named a dedicated diversity and inclusion partner, and yet it ranked 172nd.

In the past several years, the firm has implemented implicit bias training programs, expanded its adoption benefits policy (covering up to $10,000 in adoption fees per employee), and revised its associate review process to filter out biases, according to Ari Joseph, Brown Rudnick’s director of equity, inclusion and diversity. The firm is currently reviewing its compensation procedures to make them more equitable, he said.

“If you don’t have a culture and you don’t have processes and procedures in place that prevent against and mitigate against unconscious biases, … and you don’t have real buy in from the top down … then having great numbers [in the associate ranks] means nothing, and you’re going to have incredible attrition,” said Joseph. “That’s why the legal industry is not diverse. Because of the cultures and biases riddled throughout.”

Brown Rudnick’s changes came after the firm looked at its numbers and “realized we could do better,” according to Sunni Beville, the firm’s diversity and inclusion partner. “Our numbers should improve over time, and hopefully in the short term as well,” she said.

Robert Grey, president of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, said the competitive aspect of the diversity scorecard is necessary for it to have an impact. “If you don’t have ideas about what your talent looks like compared to your peers, … how do you know whether you’re doing the best you can do?” he said. “You don’t. So you’ve got to measure it at some level.”

“You’re either doing something positive and you’re making progress or you’re not,” Grey added. “If this embarrasses you, then maybe you should be embarrassed.”

Write to Big Law Business at biglawbusiness@bna.com.

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