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DIVERSITY ISSUE

 

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June 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 4| Page 7
FRONTLINES

 

Change Agents?

Diversity is everywhere, and unavoidable, in our culture. So who will teach us how to thrive by embracing it in our law firms? Enter the inclusive leader.

In the 15 years since the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) began tracking it, the percentage of law firm partners who are women has increased a mere 6 percent—a rate of change so slow it barely registers. Progress has been even slower for minority partners—from 2.5 peRcent in 1993 to 5.4 percent in 2007. (See chart to the right.)

Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession took direct aim at the profession’s soft underbelly last fall and released an online report that, in essence, tells big law to get a life. Using data from NALP’s Directory of Legal Employers, they graded the nation’s largest firms in four areas: billable hours, pro bono efforts, transparency and diversity (www.betterlegalprofession.org). The Diversity Report Card grades firms from A to F based on the representation of women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered individuals. (Hint: Only one firm earned an A.)

By shining a light on the nation’s largest firms, the groups says it hopes to encourage students and clients to vote with their feet and support the most inclusive, diverse and livable workplaces.

While the rankings covered only the largest firms in the top six markets, and the snapshots don’t begin to tell the profession’s whole story, the students get a clear A+. The changes they advocate could make private practice more accessible—and partnership more attainable—for women, minorities and, frankly, any lawyer who wants a better balanced life.

What can firms learn from the students, beyond the queasy feeling that someday your unfortunate stats could be plastered on the Web? First, stop hiding. Be open and broad in your efforts to build more inclusive, humane workplaces. They will be noted throughout the legal industry supply chain, from law schools to client quarters.

Second, be aware that change now is clearly being driven from above and below and the pace of progress for women and minorities just might be cranking up. And, while cynics may find even small incentives to change at odds with the big bucks AmLaw 100 reports, you never can tell. The kids might be on to something. Check back with us in another 15 years. While you’re waiting, though, dive into this issue’s features, starting on page 31, and tell us what you think.

 

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