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May 01, 2019 Article

2018 in Review: Law Firms See Minor Gains While Affinity Bars Set Goals

The legal profession remains one of the least diverse professions and is making only incremental progress.

By Melissa Pang

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has released its 2018 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, and they saw the largest increase in diverse partners in NALP’s history in 2018which happens to be 0.007 percent. While the increase is only seven-tenths of a percentage point nationwide, it still represents progress.  

A real takeaway from the NALP 2018 Report is how the numbers vary widely geographically, with cities like Miami leading the nation in percentages of diverse partners, diverse women partners, diverse associates, diverse women associates, and diverse summer associates, while Philadelphia’s numbers still sit well below the national mean.

Guy Kamealoha Noa, vice president of membership of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of South Florida (APABA South Florida) and an associate at Cole, Scott & Kissane, P.A., attributes Miami’s success to its diverse population, particularly with the Hispanic population: “Because of the diverse population, it makes firms, clients, and partners more willing to hire minorities and recognize the positives and the strengths diverse attorneys can bring to a law firm.”

In the corporate legal world, national affinity bar associations have set numerical goals to increase diversity at the general counsel level. In 2005, Wilson Chu, a partner at McDermott Will and Emery, and Don Liu, General Counsel of Target, in connection with the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), launched a 10 by 10 initiative, with a goal of 10 Asian American general counsels (GCs) in Fortune 500 companies by 2010. Through calls with recruiters, mentoring sessions, and training, the 10 by 10 initiative reached its goal two years ahead of its deadline. This prompted them to launch a new 20 by 20 initiative in 2015, which would bring representation to just slightly below the Asian American population of 5.6 percent.  By 2018, there were 23 Asian American general counsels in the Fortune 500. Currently, NAPABA has not set a new goal yet, but has discussed 50 by 25, which would be 10 percent. 

In March of 2018, the Hispanic National Bar Association launched PODER25, an initiative that uses programming, leadership training, coaching, networking events, and mentoring to increase the number of Hispanic GCs in Fortune 500 companies from 9 to 20 by 2025, which would be 4 percent. Hispanics, which make up 18 percent of the U.S. population, are among the most underrepresented populations in the Fortune 500 general counsels.

In June of 2018, an advisory council of African American former and current in-house leaders launched the Black GC 2025 Initiative. The advisory council aims to increase African American GCs in Fortune 1000 companies from 38 to 50 by 2020, and 100 by 2025 by leveraging relationships with current African American GC and executive search firms. Their goal of 10 percent of Fortune 1000 GCs would almost reach the 13 percent African American representation in the U.S. population.

Diversity in house has the potential to translate to an increase in diversity in law firms. Further, corporations have developed initiatives, which require or reward diversity in their outside counsel. Ten years ago, Microsoft instituted their Law Firm Diversity Program, providing incentives for its outside counsel firms that reach specified diversity goals. Firms can earn up to 2 percent of legal fees and bonuses if they meet these diversity goals. Since then, the number of hours billed by diverse lawyers on Microsoft matters has increased by over 20 percent. Microsoft Corporate vice president and GC Dev Stahlkopf explained the business case for diversity when he noted that “studies show that diverse teams work more effectively and produce better results,” adding “it’s really important for us that our employees and the people who do work on our behalf reflect the full diversity of our global customer base.” Increasing diversity in law firms helps firms attract clients like Microsoft, who have diversity initiatives for hiring outside counsel and want their counsel to be as diverse as their customer base, as well as diverse clients who want to see outside counsel who reflect their internal diversity.

Despite decades of diversity and inclusion efforts, the legal profession remains one of the least diverse professions and is making only incremental progress. Year after year, the numbers continue to show that relative to the overall population and to the demographic makeup of law students, women and minorities continue to be under-represented in large law firms, especially at the partner level. With these concerted efforts to increase diversity, hopefully 2019 will see even greater gains than 2018.

Melissa Pang is president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania (APABA-PA)—which is dedicated to the advancement of the interests of Asian Pacific American attorneys and the Asian American community across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania—in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Reprinted with permission from the April 5, 2019 issue of The Legal Intelligencer with some edits. © 2019 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.  All rights reserved.

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