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October 28, 2009 by  
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Law-School Cost Is Pushed Up by Quest for Prestige, Not Accreditation, GAO Survey Finds

October 27, 2009 by  
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Taken from: The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 27, 2009

October 26, 2009

By Eric Kelderman

Critics have sometimes blamed the accreditation standards of the American Bar Association for driving up the cost of law school and making it more difficult for students of color to be admitted to those programs.

But a report released on Monday by the Government Accountability Office says that most law schools surveyed instead blamed competition for better rankings and a more hands-on approach to educating students for the increased price of a law degree. In addition, the federal watchdog agency reported that, over all, minorities are making up a larger share of law-school enrollments than in the past, although the percentage of African-American students in those programs is shrinking. The GAO attributed that decrease to lower undergraduate grade-point averages and scores on law-school admissions tests.

Law-school accreditation is technically voluntary but practically important: 19 states now require candidates to have a degree from an institution approved by the bar association to be eligible to take the bar examination. And a degree from an ABA-accredited institution makes a student eligible to take the bar exam in any state.

 The costs of getting a law degree, however, have increased at a faster rate than the costs of comparable professional programs, says the report, “Higher Education: Issues Related to Law School Cost and Access.” In-state tuition and fees at public law schools averaged $14,461 in the 2007-8 academic year, 7.2 percent higher than the cost 12 years earlier. In comparison, the cost of a medical degree from a public institution increased 5.3 percent over the same period, to $22,048 annually.

 Law-school costs for nonresidents and at private institutions also increased at a slower rate over that period, but now total about twice as much or more in dollars compared with residents’ costs at public institutions.

 The reasons for the fast-rising costs are that law schools are providing courses and student-support programs that require more staff and faculty, the federal survey found. In addition, law schools spent more on faculty salaries and library resources, among other things, to boost their standing in the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings, law-school officials told the GAO.

 Those findings stand in contrast to some criticisms that the accreditation standards for faculty and facilities are a major factor in the cost of law schools. “Officials from more than half of the ABA-accredited schools we spoke with stated they would meet or exceed some ABA accreditation standards even if they were not required,” the report says.

Law-school officials also cited recent declines in state appropriations as a reason for rising tuition, federal researchers reported.

 Accreditation standards also were not widely blamed for the declining share of African-American law students, most of those surveyed said. Between the 1994-95 and 2006-7 academic years, the percentage of black students has shrunk from 7.5 percent of law school students to 6.5 percent, even as the number of blacks earning bachelor’s degrees has grown by two percentage points.

 “Most law-school officials, students, and minority-student-group representatives we interviewed focused on issues such as differences in LSAT scores, academic preparation, and professional contacts, rather than accreditation standards, to explain minority access issues,” the report says.

 But the report also noted that some officials blamed not only accreditation, but also rankings by U.S. News & World Report for lower or static enrollment rates of minorities: “Schools are reluctant to admit applicants with lower LSAT scores because the median LSAT score is a key factor in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.”

 The study was a requirement of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed in 2008, and was meant to compare the costs and level of minority enrollment at law schools to similar professional-degree programs, including medical, dental, and veterinary colleges. Federal researchers surveyed officials at 22 institutions, including three that are not accredited by the ABA, and students in two law programs, one of which did not have the ABA’s stamp of approval.

NAWL Fourth Annual Survey on Women in Law Firms

October 27, 2009 by  
Filed under News & Events

Please see below for a link to a press release announcing the release of NAWL’s (National Association of Women’s Lawyers) Fourth Annual Survey on Women in Law Firms.  There is also a direct link to the survey. 

NAWL Press Release – October 26, 2009

2009 NAWL Survey

What Change Lies Ahead, What Legacy Left Behind?

October 27, 2009 by  
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Change is a common refrain today both in politics and in the profession. Find out how to translate the rallying cry for change into a meaningful dialogue on diversity and inclusion. Read an excellent article below, written by Stacy Hawkins, our former member. 

 

What Change Lies Ahead, What Legacy Left Behind?

The Legal Intelligencer

By Stacy Hawkins

October 26, 2009

Change is the order of the day. The country flooded the polls in record numbers almost a year ago and carried President Obama to resounding victory all in the hope for change – change in our international policy and diplomacy, change in our economic policy, change in our social policy and even change in the demographics of power. There is an urgency in the manner and substance of the national yearning for change.

There has been a similar rallying cry for change in the legal profession. Corporate counsel have demanded changes in billing rates and billing structures from outside counsel. Law students have clamored for changes in the overworked and overwrought culture of the profession and bar associations across the nation continue to champion the cause for a more diverse profession.

Sometimes change is inevitable. At other times, it requires deliberate action and unrelenting commitment. It seems fairly certain that the recent economic upheaval has precipitated changes in the business of the legal profession that will settle into permanence in one form or another. However, whether and the extent to which the culture of the profession will change depends entirely on the value judgments we make today and the actions we take to manifest those values tomorrow.

Balanced Lives, Better Lawyers

The legal profession has always been notorious for evoking metaphors of “sweatshops” and images of “burning the midnight oil.” Yet, incoming generations of lawyers are increasingly skeptical of the need for “face time” in the electronic age or ballooning billable hours when the new mantra is to “work smarter not harder.” These young lawyers are challenging the conventional wisdom that the old way of doing business is the only way to do business.

Just as the Yahoo generation ushered in the age of the business casual workplace, so too this generation of newcomers is seeking to change the workplace in a meaningful way by integrating the concept of work-life balance into the culture of the profession. In the age of BlackBerrys, laptops and cell phones, most people find themselves actually working longer and harder than ever before. This increased expectation of availability demands greater flexibility in accommodating how and when work gets done.

In a 2001 survey conducted by the Radcliff Public Policy Center, 82 percent of men and 85 percent of women ages 20 to 39 placed family time at the top of their work/life priorities. The sheer demand for work-life balance has caused business schools, such as the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, to offer courses that teach MBA students how to better balance their own lives, as well as how to integrate an appreciation for work-life balance into their management style.

The legal profession has experienced the same shift in priorities. In 1998, the National Association for Law Placement, or NALP, Foundation conducted extensive research on the increased incidence of associate attrition from law firms based on the rising premium placed on work-life balance. The NALP Foundation study found “[t]he decision to stay or leave was most frequently affected by … the unspoken firm policy on the balance of law practice and life” with numerous associates reporting that “they had taken substantial cuts in pay in order to achieve a more balanced lifestyle, and even those who had not yet made such a dramatic move indicated their willingness to earn less for the chance at having a life outside of the law office.”

Prior to the recent layoffs, the trend within the legal profession was toward skyrocketing attrition, with attrition estimates as high as 78 percent by the fifth year of practice, much of it unwanted. There was a mass exodus out of the profession via what has been called the “opt out revolution” (first coined by a New York Times columnist in 2003). Prized young lawyers at the peak of their careers “opted out” of the profession rather than compromise their personal values.

As the economy rebounds, those trends are likely to resume unless there is a shift from the premium placed on billable hours to a value-driven proposition that rewards productivity and encourages a meaningful life outside of work.

New and creative paradigms must be developed to meet evolving expectations around the balance of work and life. Although many legal employers have begun to implement policies that provide greater flexibility to lawyers, many either do not go far enough or are underutilized. According to the latest NALP statistics, although most firms offer part-time or flex-time work arrangements, only 5.4 percent of lawyers utilize them (versus 14 percent in other professional specialties according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and such policies are available to all lawyers in less than 10 percent of law firms. Additionally, lawyers who utilize part-time or flex-time policies have often complained of stigmatization and isolation.

As a profession, we must recognize the need for greater flexibility for a broader range of work options and promote a culture that values work-life balance. We cannot afford the inevitable “brain drain” out of the profession that will occur when lawyers continuously choose to opt out rather than sacrifice the important experiences of their lives to the often unreasonable demands of the profession. Critiques that work-life balance is elusive or somehow inconsistent with the demands of the profession are simply a reflection of our current value proposition, not what is possible if we commit ourselves to change.

Leaving a Legacy of Inclusion

Valuing work-life balance is just one aspect of the culture of the legal profession that must continue to evolve. The profession must also continue to pursue diversity and ensure a culture of inclusion. Every generation aspires to leave a legacy better than the one before it. But when it comes to diversifying the profession, so far the legacy we are creating is not a significant improvement on the one we inherited.

While the country continues to rapidly diversify, the pool of future lawyers and leaders of the profession has actually become less diverse. Recent data show that minority law school enrollment, especially among blacks and Hispanics, is on the decline. At the same time, women and minorities in the profession have experienced high attrition coupled with stagnation in advancement. The net result of these negative trends may be a profession that looks less inclusive tomorrow than it does today. That should be unacceptable.

There are noble ideals imbedded in our quest for a diverse and inclusive profession. Much is made of the “business case” for diversity, but we also cannot lose sight of the social imperative that calls us to diversify the profession.

It has long been the aim to promote the full and equal participation by all in the profession and the justice system. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor perhaps said it best in Grutter v. Bollinger when she stated, “[e]ffective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our Nation is essential if our dream of one Nation, indivisible, is to be realized.” She could have continued by adding both genders, and members of all groups whether relating to religion, sexual orientation, ability, family status or otherwise.

It was truly a great day on Nov. 4, 2008, when the nation elected the first African-American president. Many people of color across the country declared it a victorious legacy for children of color, who can now truly aspire to one day be president of the United States. What a sad legacy we will leave behind if the diversity of our profession (or lack thereof), rather than inspiring a diverse generation of new lawyers, instead suggests that people of color, or of any religion, sexual orientation, or any other dimension of diversity can be president, but not practice law.

A day will come when the urgency of this moment has passed and all that is left behind is the legacy of the values that defined us. Our values as a profession should reflect the social ideals that we espouse for full and equal participation in the profession and in the justice system. The legacy we leave behind should be a more accommodating and inclusive profession, one that is welcoming to everyone and allows all its members to contribute meaningfully while also leading meaningful lives. •

Stacy Hawkins is a diversity consultant. She was formerly director of diversity for Ballard Spahr, resident in the Philadelphia office. Previously, she practiced in the areas of labor and employment and corporate diversity counseling in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at 215-635-3638 or stacyhawkinsesq@comcast.net.

NALP finds slight improvement in law firm diversity, but pockets of decline

October 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Articles

Karen Sloan
October 21, 2009

Diversity advocates have voiced concern about the toll recent law firm layoffs have taken on women and minority attorneys, and it appears that their fears were not entirely unfounded.

The latest attorney demographic survey from the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) indicates that law firm diversity ticked up slightly overall during the past year, but declined in several markets.

“It is likely that layoffs and reduced hiring during the past year have contributed to the small declines we have been able to measure,” NALP Executive Director James Leipold said in a written statement released on Oct. 21.

In Houston and New Orleans, the percentage of female and minority attorneys at law firms dropped among both associates and partners. The decline was steepest in New Orleans, where the reported percentage of minority associates dropped from more than 15% in 2008 to slightly more than 10% in 2009. The percentage of women associates fell by nearly 2% during that time.

Cincinnati; Detroit; Milwaukee, Wis.; Northern New Jersey; and Orange County, Calif., saw declines in the percentage of women associates, minority associates or both, according NALP.

NALP noted that exact year-to-year comparisons are difficult, but that the data generally reflect demographic trends. In fact, NALP said, the latest numbers may well understate the damage layoffs have done to law firm diversity.

“These data were gathered early in 2009, and therefore do not reflect all the layoffs that have occurred, and in fact continue to occur, as a result of the economic slowdown,” Leipold said.

“I think law firms are working very hard to maintain a diverse workforce, even as they experience overall reductions in headcount, but I am fearful that we may see further erosion of some of these numbers when we look at the data for 2010,” he added. “The good news is that the 2009 data do not reflect more widespread decreases, and in fact in most markets diversity levels rose in spite of the tough economic times.”

The five largest legal markets in the United States – New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington – saw their percentages of women and minority partners and associates hold steady or increase slightly compared to 2008.

The overall national percentage of minority partners inched up from 5.92% in 2008 to 6.05% in 2009. Female partners increased to 19.21% compared to 18.74% last year. Women made up 45.66% of associates compared to 45.34% in 2008, while minority representation increased from 19.08% to 19.67%. These small increases did little to boost overall diversity, as the percentage of total minority attorneys held steady at slightly more than 12% and women continued to represent slightly fewer than one third of attorneys.

Bucking the national trend, Austin, Texas; Wilmington, Del.; and Portland, Ore., saw the percentage of their women or minority associates increase compared to 2008.

The representation of female minorities at law firms continued to lag, however. They make up a mere 1.88% of partners and 11.02% of associates, showing virtually no change compared to the previous year.

Although scant data existed previously to gauge the demographics of lawyers laid off by firms, diversity advocates reported anecdotal evidence that minorities and women were hit hard by the job losses – in part because they tend to be younger and may not have as many close client relationships as their white male counterparts.

Law Firm Diversity Demographics Show Little Change, Despite Economic Downturn

October 22, 2009 by  
Filed under News & Events

NALP recently released statistics examining the affect of the economic downturn on diversity demographics in law firms.  Please select the following link to view the full article: NALP Diversity Demographics Article 10/09

Progress Proves Elusive for Diversity in the Legal Profession

October 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Articles

Karen Sloan
The National Law Journal
October 20, 2009
Five years ago this month, Roderick Palmore wrote “A Call to Action” — a pledge signed by the general counsel of some of the country’s largest corporations vowing to make diversity a major consideration in their selection of outside counsel.

Palmore, now the general counsel of General Mills Inc., wanted companies to put more business pressure on law firms to improve the diversity of their attorney ranks, where racial minorities long have been woefully underrepresented.

Diversity efforts across the profession mushroomed after the Call to Action was issued. Nearly every major law firm has created a diversity committee tasked with boosting minority and female representation. More scholarships for minority law students were established, affinity groups were formed and more so-called pipeline programs popped up to encourage minority students to pursue the law. Nary a week passed, it seemed, when a firm wasn’t unveiling a fresh diversity initiative or trumpeting an award received for its efforts.

Still, real progress in diversifying the profession has been painfully slow. Since 2004, the percentage of minority attorneys at U.S. law firms has crept up from 10 percent to just 12.6 percent in 2009, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

“Our narrative over time has been that change has been infuriatingly slow,” said James G. Leipold, executive director of NALP, which has been publishing minority attorney statistics for years in hopes of drawing more attention to the wide disparities that exist in the profession. “I think there is burnout, frustration and a feeling that, for all our efforts, the results are disappointing.”

STALLED RESULTS

While recognizing that attitudes toward diversity have improved over time and that minority representation has improved slightly, a sample of diversity advocates, law firm partners, general counsel and law school leaders generally agreed that the legal profession needs to make deeper, more collective changes to jump-start the stalled diversity movement.

“Although we have these initiatives, they are done very much on the surface level,” said Pamela Edwards, director of the Center for Diversity in the Legal Profession at the City University of New York School of Law. “Just increasing the number of minority attorneys is not the same as trying to significantly change the profession. That takes introspection, not a just a race to get to better numbers.”

The Minority Law Journal‘s Diversity Scorecard, which includes statistics from the largest and most profitable law firms in the United States, shows that the proportion of minority attorneys grew from 10.4 percent in 2005 to 13.9 percent in 2009. The publication is an affiliate of The National Law Journal.

“Am I satisfied with where we are? No,” Palmore said of diversity efforts during the past five years. “Do I think we’ve made some progress? Yes.”

Palmore cautioned that reported law firm figures on minority attorneys are sometimes inflated and don’t provide a full picture. For instance, most reports lump together all partners and all associates without breaking out the racial makeup of nonequity partners and staff attorneys.

The demographic of attorneys filling those less influential positions is a telling sign of whether law firms are truly embracing diversity, Palmore said. (Data about the diversity of staff attorneys is scant, but the 2008 Vault/Minority Corporate Counsel Association Law Firm Diversity Survey found that minorities made up 5.6 percent of equity partners and 8.5 percent of nonequity partners at large firms.)

FEWER AT THE TOP RUNGS

Although the available statistics oversimplify the diversity picture, they demonstrate that change has been significantly slower at the top rungs of the law firm ladder. The percentage of minority associates at firms increased from 15.1 percent in 2005 to 19.7 percent in 2009, up by 4.6 percentage points, according to NALP.

That increase far outpaced the growth among minority partners, which ticked up from 4.3 percent to 6.1 percent during that time. The dearth of minority partners is a problem that firms need to address to get more young minorities interested in the profession, said Fred W. Alvarez, a partner at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and the chairman of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. The strong presence of minority partners — 18 percent — has helped Wilson Sonsini recruit young minority attorneys, he said.

“We need to create more success stories so that it isn’t such a leap of faith to say a diverse lawyer can be a general counsel of a law firm partner,” Alvarez said. “We’ve been suffering from a lack of role models in a whole lot of places.”

The lack of minority partners also hampers retention efforts because minority associates often leave their firms when they don’t see a clear path to partnership, said Helise Harrington, diversity partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.

“You can recruit associates like crazy, but if you don’t have any minority partners who are role models, you wonder how you can be successful in keeping them,” she said.

In addition to concealing the gap between the percentages of minority associates and partners, focusing on the overall percentages of minority attorneys at law firms masks some troubling trends among individual racial groups, Leipold said. The percentage of Asian attorneys increased slightly and has offset a loss of African-American attorneys, while the percentage of Hispanic attorneys stagnated in recent years, he said.

The legal profession lags behind nearly every other white-collar profession when it comes to diversity, statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show. Blacks, Asians and Hispanics made up 11.8 percent of all U.S. attorneys in 2007. By contrast, those groups represented 19.9 percent of dentists, 25.5 percent of accountants and auditors and 27.7 percent of physicians and surgeons, although Asians accounted for a disproportionately high percentage of the doctors and dentists.

“We’re way behind other professions,” said Thomas M. Cooley Law School professor E. Christopher Johnson Jr., who spearheaded a number of diversity programs when he was general counsel for North America at General Motors Corp. “If these other professions can do it, we should be able to do it.”

DASHED EXPECTATIONS

Veta T. Richardson counts herself among those underwhelmed by the recent progress the legal profession has made on diversity. She took over as executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association in 2001, expecting swift results because of the heightening interest in diversity.

“I optimistically thought I’d work hard for five years and things would have improved so much that we wouldn’t need to talk that much about it,” she said.

Eight years later, Richardson is still talking about diversity, although she conceded that most firms have moved past asking why they should change and now want to know how they can show better results.

For their part, a number of law firm partners insisted during interviews that firms have made meaningful changes even if the proportion of minority attorneys hasn’t shot up across the board. The biggest gains have been in improving attitudes about diversity, they said.

“The environment of law firms has become a lot more inclusive,” said Keith Vaughan, chairman of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. “There’s significant progress being made, but it’s a slow evolution.”

According to the Minority Law Journal‘s Diversity Scorecard, most firms improved their diversity numbers between 2005 and 2009. But more than 12 percent of firms saw their percentage of minority attorneys stay the same or decline during those years, including Sonnenschein; Womble Carlyle; Greenberg Traurig; New York-based Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; and Lowenstein Sandler of Roseland, N.J. (although some of those firms still maintain minority attorney percentages higher than the national average).

RECRUITING PATTERNS HURT NUMBERS

“Our percentage of minority partners has gone up slightly, but overall there has been a decline,” Harrington said of Sonnenschein. “We did very well at first, then a lot of firms caught up with us.”

Harrington attributes Sonnenschein’s dip in minority attorneys to several factors, one of which is the firm’s strategic plan to move higher up the AmLaw 100, The American Lawyer‘s ranking of the nation’s top 100 law firms based on financial data. The American Lawyer is an affiliate of the NLJ.

To improve its financial ranking, Sonnenschein is recruiting laterals with large books of business — a category traditionally comprising mainly white men and excluding many minorities or women — Harrington said. In addition, the firm has relied heavily on its summer program to bring in minority associates. Smaller summer and incoming associate classes have left the firm with fewer spots to offer minority candidates, she said.

Vaughan couldn’t point to a specific reason why the percentage of minority attorneys at Womble Carlyle remained steady at 6 percent on both the 2005 and 2009 scorecards. The firm has strengthened efforts through its diversity committee and its Womble Carlyle Scholars Program, which offers scholarships and summer jobs to diverse students. But it still grapples with recruiting from the fairly limited pool of minority law graduates, Vaughan said.

“My perception is that you have a certain number of minorities coming out of law school and everybody is trying to recruit them,” he said. “In a sense, we need to work on the supply side.

The so-called pipeline issue has become a greater focus of the legal diversity movement. It’s not clear how effective pipeline programs are in funneling minorities into law schools and on into firms, however.

The percentage of minority students enrolled at American Bar Association-approved law schools has barely budged during the past five years. Minorities made up 21 percent of Juris Doctor enrollment in 2004, compared to 21.9 percent in 2008, according to figures from the ABA.

The narrow pipeline is only part of the problem. Law firm recruiting practices are another major factor in the lack of diversity, according to academics and firm leaders.

“Yes, there is a relatively small number of people of color who go to law schools, but the top firms only interview at the most elite law schools, and then they only want the top of the class,” said Edwards. “The number only gets smaller and smaller. Law firms need to broaden their search.”

REASON FOR HOPE

Despite the disappointing progress on diversity in the legal profession — the slow increase in minorities at law firms, the stagnant number enrolled in law schools and the lack of diverse attorneys in top positions — there is reason for optimism.

Law firms are making gains in the diversity of summer associates and first-year associates, Leipold said. For example, more than 24 percent of summer associates in 2009 were minorities, compared to slightly more than 20 percent in 2004, according to NALP.

Several advocates said that the legal-diversity movement is poised for another surge following the formation in May of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) and other initiatives from the ABA and elsewhere.

The LCLD, led by Palmore and Hunton & Williams managing partner Wally Martinez, brings together law firm managing partners and general counsel from major companies to hold legal leaders accountable for their minority numbers. The previous strategy, in which corporations and law firms tackled their diversity problems separately, didn’t yield the desired results, Palmore said.

“[Diversity programs] have been going on for a long time, and the results speak for themselves,” Palmore said. “They’ve been marginally successful, at best. That indicates a new approach is warranted.”

The key to making real progress in minority representation within the legal profession is to create broad, consistent professional-development programs for all young attorneys, not just minorities, he said. Attrition will decline when all associates believe that firms are investing in them and believe that they have true mentors — greater diversity will then follow.

“Right now, it’s almost accidental who gets developed and who doesn’t,” Palmore said. “You have talented people who don’t feel invested in, and they leave. I think that’s the biggest obstacle.”

Richardson views the new collaborative efforts as a pivotal third act in the legal diversity movement — the first two being the recognition that diversity makes business sense and the movement of firms and companies to address that issue on their own.

Like Richardson, Alvarez senses renewed momentum on the diversity front. So where does he see legal diversity in another five years?

“I’m hoping we’re going to be better than we are now, but I’m realistic enough to know that we won’t be done,” he said.

To access the the web-article, please clink on the following link:  Progress Proves Elusive for Diversity

Despite the Hype, Progress Proves Elusive

October 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Articles

Diversity committees, mentoring and social events are failing to diversify legal profession.

Karen Sloan
National Law Journal
10-19-2009

Five years ago this month, Roderick Palmore wrote “A Call to Action” – a pledge signed by the general counsel of some of the country’s largest corporations vowing to make diversity a major consideration in their selection of outside counsel.

Palmore, now the general counsel of General Mills Inc., wanted companies to put more business pressure on law firms to improve the diversity of their attorney ranks, where racial minorities long have been woefully underrepresented.

Diversity efforts across the profession mushroomed after the Call to Action was issued. Nearly every major law firm has created a diversity committee tasked with boosting minority and female representation. More scholarships for minority law students were established, affinity groups were formed and more so-called pipeline programs popped up to encourage minority students to pursue the law. Nary a week passed, it seemed, when a firm wasn’t unveiling a fresh diversity initiative or trumpeting an award received for its efforts.

Still, real progress in diversifying the profession has been painfully slow. Since 2004, the percentage of minority attorneys at U.S. law firms has crept up from 10% to just 12.6% in 2009, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

“Our narrative over time has been that change has been infuriatingly slow,” said James G. Leipold, executive director of NALP, which has been publishing minority attorney statistics for years in hopes of drawing more attention to the wide disparities that exist in the profession. “I think there is burnout, frustration and a feeling that, for all our efforts, the results are disappointing.”

 STALLED RESULTS

 While recognizing that attitudes toward diversity have improved over time and that minority representation has improved slightly, a sample of diversity advocates, law firm partners, general counsel and law school leaders generally agreed that the legal profession needs to make deeper, more collective changes to jump-start the stalled diversity movement.

“Although we have these initiatives, they are done very much on the surface level,” said Pamela Edwards, director of the Center for Diversity in the Legal Profession at the City University of New York School of Law. “Just increasing the number of minority attorneys is not the same as trying to significantly change the profession. That takes introspection, not a just a race to get to better numbers.”

The Minority Law Journal’s Diversity Scorecard, which includes statistics from the largest and most profitable law firms in the United States, shows that the proportion of minority attorneys grew from 10.4% in 2005 to 13.9% in 2009. The publication is an affiliate of The National Law Journal.

“Am I satisfied with where we are? No,” Palmore said of diversity efforts during the past five years. “Do I think we’ve made some progress? Yes.”

Palmore cautioned that reported law firm figures on minority attorneys are sometimes inflated and don’t provide a full picture. For instance, most reports lump together all partners and all associates without breaking out the racial makeup of nonequity partners and staff attorneys.

The demographic of attorneys filling those less influential positions is a telling sign of whether law firms are truly embracing diversity, Palmore said. (Data about the diversity of staff attorneys is scant, but the 2008 Vault/Minority Corporate Counsel Association Law Firm Diversity Survey found that minorities made up 5.6% of equity partners and 8.5% of nonequity partners at large firms.)

FEWER AT THE TOP RUNGS

 Although the available statistics oversimplify the diversity picture, they demonstrate that change has been significantly slower at the top rungs of the law firm ladder. The percentage of minority associates at firms increased from 15.1% in 2005 to 19.7% in 2009, up by 4.6 percentage points, according to NALP.

That increase far outpaced the growth among minority partners, which ticked up from 4.3% to 6.1% during that time. The dearth of minority partners is a problem that firms need to address to get more young minorities interested in the profession, said Fred W. Alvarez, a partner at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and the chairman of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. The strong presence of minority partners – 18% – has helped Wilson Sonsini recruit young minority attorneys, he said.

“We need to create more success stories so that it isn’t such a leap of faith to say a diverse lawyer can be a general counsel of a law firm partner,” Alvarez said. “We’ve been suffering from a lack of role models in a whole lot of places.”

The lack of minority partners also hampers retention efforts because minority associates often leave their firms when they don’t see a clear path to partnership, said Helise Harrington, diversity partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.

“You can recruit associates like crazy, but if you don’t have any minority partners who are role models, you wonder how you can be successful in keeping them,” she said.

In addition to concealing the gap between the percentages of minority associates and partners, focusing on the overall percentages of minority attorneys at law firms masks some troubling trends among individual racial groups, Leipold said. The percentage of Asian attorneys increased slightly and has offset a loss of African-American attorneys, while the percentage of Hispanic attorneys stagnated in recent years, he said.

The legal profession lags behind nearly every other white-collar profession when it comes to diversity, statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show. Blacks, Asians and Hispanics made up 11.8% of all U.S. attorneys in 2007. By contrast, those groups represented 19.9% of dentists, 25.5% of accountants and auditors and 27.7% of physicians and surgeons, although Asians accounted for a disproportionately high percentage of the doctors and dentists.

“We’re way behind other professions,” said Thomas M. Cooley Law School professor E. Christopher Johnson Jr., who spearheaded a number of diversity programs when he was general counsel for North America at General Motors Corp. “If these other professions can do it, we should be able to do it.”

 DASHED EXPECTATIONS

Veta T. Richardson counts herself among those underwhelmed by the recent progress the legal profession has made on diversity. She took over as executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association in 2001, expecting swift results because of the heightening interest in diversity.

“I optimistically thought I’d work hard for five years and things would have improved so much that we wouldn’t need to talk that much about it,” she said.

Eight years later, Richardson is still talking about diversity, although she conceded that most firms have moved past asking why they should change and now want to know how they can show better results.

For their part, a number of law firm partners insisted during interviews that firms have made meaningful changes even if the proportion of minority attorneys hasn’t shot up across the board. The biggest gains have been in improving attitudes about diversity, they said.

“The environment of law firms has become a lot more inclusive,” said Keith Vaughan, chairman of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. “There’s significant progress being made, but it’s a slow evolution.”

According to the Minority Law Journal’s Diversity Scorecard, most firms improved their diversity numbers between 2005 and 2009. But more than 12% of firms saw their percentage of minority attorneys stay the same or decline during those years, including Sonnenschein; Womble Carlyle; Greenberg Traurig; New York-based Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; and Lowenstein Sandler of Roseland, N.J. (although some of those firms still maintain minority attorney percentages higher than the national average).

RECRUITING PATTERNS HURT NUMBERS

 ”Our percentage of minority partners has gone up slightly, but overall there has been a decline,” Harrington said of Sonnenschein. “We did very well at first, then a lot of firms caught up with us.”

Harrington attributes Sonnenschein’s dip in minority attorneys to several factors, one of which is the firm’s strategic plan to move higher up the AmLaw 100, The American Lawyer’s ranking of the nation’s top 100 law firms based on financial data. The American Lawyer is an affiliate of the NLJ.

To improve its financial ranking, Sonnenschein is recruiting laterals with large books of business – a category traditionally comprising mainly white men and excluding many minorities or women – Harrington said. In addition, the firm has relied heavily on its summer program to bring in minority associates. Smaller summer and incoming associate classes have left the firm with fewer spots to offer minority candidates, she said.

Vaughan couldn’t point to a specific reason why the percentage of minority attorneys at Womble Carlyle remained steady at 6% on both the 2005 and 2009 scorecards. The firm has strengthened efforts through its diversity committee and its Womble Carlyle Scholars Program, which offers scholarships and summer jobs to diverse students. But it still grapples with recruiting from the fairly limited pool of minority law graduates, Vaughan said.

“My perception is that you have a certain number of minorities coming out of law school and everybody is trying to recruit them,” he said. “In a sense, we need to work on the supply side.

The so-called pipeline issue has become a greater focus of the legal diversity movement. It’s not clear how effective pipeline programs are in funneling minorities into law schools and on into firms, however.

The percentage of minority students enrolled at American Bar Association-approved law schools has barely budged during the past five years. Minorities made up 21% of Juris Doctor enrollment in 2004, compared to 21.9% in 2008, according to figures from the ABA.

 The narrow pipeline is only part of the problem. Law firm recruiting practices are another major factor in the lack of diversity, according to academics and firm leaders.

“Yes, there is a relatively small number of people of color who go to law schools, but the top firms only interview at the most elite law schools, and then they only want the top of the class,” said Edwards. “The number only gets smaller and smaller. Law firms need to broaden their search.”

REASON FOR HOPE

 Despite the disappointing progress on diversity in the legal profession – the slow increase in minorities at law firms, the stagnant number enrolled in law schools and the lack of diverse attorneys in top positions – there is reason for optimism.

Law firms are making gains in the diversity of summer associates and first-year associates, Leipold said. For example, more than 24% of summer associates in 2009 were minorities, compared to slightly more than 20% in 2004, according to NALP.

Several advocates said that the legal-diversity movement is poised for another surge following the formation in May of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) and other initiatives from the ABA and elsewhere.

 The LCLD, led by Palmore and Hunton & Williams managing partner Wally Martinez, brings together law firm managing partners and general counsel from major companies to hold legal leaders accountable for their minority numbers. The previous strategy, in which corporations and law firms tackled their diversity problems separately, didn’t yield the desired results, Palmore said.

“[Diversity programs] have been going on for a long time, and the results speak for themselves,” Palmore said. “They’ve been marginally successful, at best. That indicates a new approach is warranted.”

The key to making real progress in minority representation within the legal profession is to create broad, consistent professional-development programs for all young attorneys, not just minorities, he said. Attrition will decline when all associates believe that firms are investing in them and believe that they have true mentors – greater diversity will then follow.

“Right now, it’s almost accidental who gets developed and who doesn’t,” Palmore said. “You have talented people who don’t feel invested in, and they leave. I think that’s the biggest obstacle.”

Richardson views the new collaborative efforts as a pivotal third act in the legal diversity movement – the first two being the recognition that diversity makes business sense and the movement of firms and companies to address that issue on their own.

Like Richardson, Alvarez senses renewed momentum on the diversity front. So where does he see legal diversity in another five years?

“I’m hoping we’re going to be better than we are now, but I’m realistic enough to know that we won’t be done,” he said.

Natalia Martin Moderates NY City Bar Panel “Perspectives of Minority Female Judges and Litigators”

October 16, 2009 by  
Filed under News & Events

On Thursday, October 22, 2009, from 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM, Natalia Martin will host “Perspectives of Minority Female Judges and Litigators” for the New York City Bar.  The program will discuss the special challenges that minority female attorneys often face during their careers because of their gender and race or ethnicity. This program will have a distinguished panel of minority judges and litigators discuss how their gender and race or ethnicity have impacted their careers and how minority women can continue to make strides in the legal profession. The panel will also discuss how minority and female attorneys can further their careers, particularly during the current economic climate.

Moderator:

·         NATALIA MARTIN, Director of Diversity, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP

Speakers:

·         HON. DEBRA A. JAMES, Supreme Court, Civil Branch, New York County

·         HON. VERNA L. SAUNDERS, New York City Civil Court, Housing Part;

·         KARLA G. SANCHEZ, Partner, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP;

·         ERIKA McDANIEL EDWARDS, Partner, Donaldson, Chilliest & McDaniel LLP

 

Please click here for more information: Perspectives of Minority Female Judges and Litigators

 

Survey Shows Recession’s Impact on Minority Associates

October 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Articles

Top in-house lawyers fear that diversity efforts among their outside counsel will suffer as jobs are cut. And our latest Minority Experience Study suggests there’s reason to worry

 Susan Hansen

The Minority Law Journal

10-05-2009

 Given the current economic climate, it’s easy to see why long-range efforts to boost minority hiring and retention might fall further down the to-do list, as law firms attend to more urgent concerns. But memo to managing partners: Don’t expect clients to back off the push for greater diversity. Recession or no recession, many top in-house lawyers continue to care deeply about the issue. Indeed, they worry that the recent downturn is hitting minority associates especially hard, threatening the limited advances that law firms have managed to make. All big-firm associates may be facing a far shakier future, the thinking goes, but the outlook for minority lawyers could be especially bleak if firms let diversity efforts lapse.

 “The economic times suck,” one clerk at New York’s Skadden, Arps, Meagher, Slate & Flom wrote bluntly in response to our most recent summer associates survey. “The firm can’t change that. But the times have made for a difficult summer.” A Bryan Cave intern put it this way: “It is a scary time to be a law student.”

 Minority midlevels are also more pessimistic about coming salary cuts. At least among African Americans, there was also greater frustration with how law firm leaders have handled the slowdown, and a dimmer view of their future at their firm.

 “The danger is that the progress we have made on diversity will erode,” says Roderick “Rick” Palmore, general counsel of General Mills. Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith concurs: “Even before the onset of the recession, we were seeing a situation where progress was disappointing. It’s very important that we not slide backward.”

 Judging from our most recent Minority Experience Study, there’s definite cause for concern. This year we set out to measure the impact of the recession on midlevel associates of various racial groups. While all associates reported a falloff in work compared to last year, along with layoffs and benefit cuts at their firms, minority midlevels — particularly African Americans — seem to be feeling the economic crisis’s effects most acutely. Compared to those of their white colleagues, the workloads of black, Asian American, and Hispanic lawyers are lighter, and their billable hours are lower. Minority lawyers are also experiencing higher levels of anxiety about layoffs. That was true in our 2008 survey, but this year a greater percentage of associates in all ethnic groups said that the recession has affected them.

 Black associates were more likely to say that they were actively seeking other jobs, as well as more downbeat about the chances that they’d be at their current firms two years from now. As a group, African American lawyers were also more likely to cite “lack of work” as their main reason for moving on.

 Those findings don’t surprise diversity advocates like Venu Gupta, executive director of the Chicago Council on Minorities in Large Law Firms. The group has recently been busy holding workshops and career counseling sessions for a growing stream of newly unemployed minority attorneys. And not just first- and second-year lawyers, adds Gupta, but senior associates and even partners. “To me, the recession is like a final exam testing the commitment to diversity,” says Gupta. “So far the legal community has not passed with flying colors.” She adds, “My fear is that we will look up in two years, and the gains it has taken us ten years to make will have disappeared.”

 As in years past, the 2009 Minority Experience Study drew on responses compiled by our sibling publication The American Lawyer for its Midlevel Associates Survey. The survey, conducted in spring 2009, covered 6,101 third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates at 165 law firms and included 4,592 whites, 556 Asian Americans, 211 Hispanics, and 169 African Americans.

 No question, these are stressful times for many big-firm lawyers. But as was true in our 2008 survey, minority midlevels appeared to feel particularly vulnerable. Nearly a third of African American lawyers, and almost a quarter of Hispanic and Asian Americans, reported high levels of anxiety at their firms about job security, compared to just over a fifth of white associates.

 Considering that minority midlevels are generally keeping less busy, they may have good reason to be nervous: More than a fifth of black associates and just over 15 percent of Asian Americans and Hispanics said their workloads were too light, in contrast to only about 13 percent of whites.

 Likewise, minority lawyers surveyed said they posted fewer billable hours on average last year than their white counterparts. The average hours billed figure in 2008 was 1,862 for black midlevels, 1,925 for Asian Americans, 1,965 for Hispanics, and 1,976 for whites. And minority lawyers are unlikely to boost their relative output much in 2009. Projected billables for this year were just under 1,825 hours for Asian Americans and African Americans, about 1,840 for Hispanics, and roughly 1,890 for whites.

 It’s probably not surprising, then, that minority lawyers are more likely to be braced for a pay cut than their white colleagues. At the same time, it should be noted that when we examined the issue last year, we found that actual salary gaps were mainly tied to geography and seniority, not to hours billed.

 As for the current environment, Arin Reeves, a diversity consultant with the Chicago-based Athens Group, contends that she has been seeing clear anecdotal evidence from around the country that minority and women lawyers are in fact paying a disproportionate price as a result of the shortage of work. “There are a lot of different ways this is playing out,” says Reeves, from canceled bonuses to salary cuts to outright layoffs.

 When she has questioned firms about some of those decisions, she adds, they virtually all say that they relied on objective criteria. Reeves notes, however, that seemingly objective measures such as billable hours may just be reflecting the fact that many minority midlevels have long had to struggle for access to good, plentiful work opportunities. “If there was inequity in the last five years, and you apply an objective scale, all you’re measuring is the amount of inequity,” says Reeves.

 As to getting enough of that good work, Veta Richardson, executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, notes that it’s often tied in to building key mentor and partner relationships — something she says has been a chronic challenge for many minority lawyers. “When work becomes less plentiful, it’s not surprising that minorities face significant challenges,” says Richardson, adding that the lack of good work isn’t just affecting associates. She says she has also been getting more calls for help in the last year from minority partners who say they are slowly being forced out of their firms.

 Over the years, our survey has consistently confirmed that African American lawyers in particular report a disparity in both the quality and quantity of the matters they’re assigned. This year once again, black midlevels were more likely to view the way work is distributed at their firms as less fair than their colleagues. On average they also reported less client contact along with lower levels of responsibility, and as a group they were less satisfied with the work feedback and the training and guidance they received as well as with their relationships with partners.

 

Amid the slowdown, fewer of these lawyers were redeployed to busier practice areas. Just 1.2 percent of black midlevels reported changing practice areas because of the recession, compared to 1.7 percent of whites, 1.9 percent of Hispanics, and 2.9 percent of Asians.

 As was the case last year, a higher proportion of black midlevels (roughly 13 percent) also reported actively looking for new jobs, compared to just under 8 percent of white and Asian Americans and about 3 percent of Hispanics (by contrast, last year’s survey found that 9 percent of Hispanics were looking for a new job; the reason for the sharp drop is unclear). Likewise, black lawyers were slightly less likely than whites to say they’d still be at their current firm two years from now. What’s more, when midlevels contemplated leaving their firm, African Americans were most likely to cite lack of work as the driving factor. Just under 5 percent predicted that insufficient work would be the main reason for their departures, compared to just under 4 percent for Hispanics, just under 3 percent for whites, and about 2.5 percent of Asians.

 

As for management’s response to the downturn, minority lawyers, especially black midlevels, see plenty of room for improvement. Roughly three-fifths of all associates surveyed said their firm had had layoffs in the past year. And though it’s difficult to generalize about attitudes regarding management overall, Hispanics and African Americans as a group gave their firms poorer marks for how they communicated layoff news. More than 60 percent of black lawyers said management’s handling of the recession had hurt associate morale, compared to about 55 percent of white midlevels. In addition, on the whole, minority lawyers were ever-so-slightly more critical of their firms’ lack of openness about finances and strategy. (On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most open, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics rated management at about 3.5, while whites rated it at 3.55.)

 “Stealth layoffs and denial does not improve morale,” wrote one Palo Alto, Calif.,-based African American lawyer. A Hispanic midlevel from Miami said this: “Help us support the decisions of the firm by informing us.” Added another respondent: “Leaving us in the dark only fosters a sense of isolation from the firm.”

 Many law firm leaders understand the concerns. “No matter what profession you’re in, people generally feel vulnerable right now,” says Hunton & Williams managing partner Wally Martinez. That’s definitely true in the legal sector, which Martinez says is facing the toughest business environment he’s ever seen. Like many firms, Hunton has shed jobs — including 64 staffers and 23 attorneys (a handful of whom were minorities) as part of budget cuts announced in the spring. This year the firm canceled its annual diversity weekend for minority lawyers, as well as other retreats, to cut costs.

 Even so, Martinez insists that boosting minority hiring and retention remains an important priority. To that end, he says, he’s been working to bolster the dialogue with the firm’s diversity committee, as well as prodding more partners to get out and talk to minority associates on a regular basis. “Communication is critical in times like these,” he adds.

 Of course, firms under financial duress probably aren’t spending a lot of time thinking about minority outreach. And in-house lawyers worry that if the economy doesn’t improve soon, still more firms will quietly abandon diversity efforts. “The pie is not expanding at the moment — it’s contracting,” says Microsoft’s Smith, who notes that almost all firms are under serious budget constraints. “Basically,” says Smith, “anything that costs money is under some degree of pressure.”

 The good news, says MCCA’s Richardson, is that at least for now, diversity initiatives appear to be holding up. According to a recent MCCA survey, the budgets for roughly 70 percent of law firm diversity programs had remained constant, though many firms did report that, like Hunton, they had canceled minority retreats. “It’s actually quite a positive story,” Richardson adds.

 Still, she and other diversity advocates worry that the recession will continue to take a toll. Minority midlevels who responded to this year’s survey are definitely feeling skittish. As one African American associate wrote in her written comments: “Please, no layoffs!”

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