September 14, 2011 Practice Points

Women of Color Increasingly Reject Law Firms for In-House Positions

By Suzanne L. Jones

According to a recent study entitled "The Perspectives of Women of Color Attorneys in Corporate Legal Departments" undertaken by the Corporate Counsel Women of Color (CCWC), female minorities are increasingly leaving law firms for corporate counsel positions. The study, which surveyed more than 1,300 African American, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American female corporate attorneys, reported a staggering 76.5 percent of surveyed women who left their law firm careers for in-house positions. One of the leading reasons cited for this move was the lack of diverse female partners who were available to serve as mentors.  

According to Veta T. Richardson, the executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, another primary reason that women of color likely prefer the corporate setting is because corporations have valued diversity since the 1980s, whereas law firms did not begin to seriously consider diversity issues until the 1990s. Richardson recommends that to retain more women of color, law firms should provide financial incentives to supervisors who make diversity a priority and should include diversity responsiveness as part of performance reviews. The CCWC study also reports that law firms could retain more women of color by providing them greater access to managing partners and executive teams, opportunities to interact with highly valued clients, and quality assignments to help them build expertise on subject matter and meet billable-hour requirements.

Keywords: diversity, minorities, corporate

Suzanne L. Jones works at Hinshaw & Culbertson, LLP in Mineapolis, Minnesota.

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