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Diversity Digest: A Truer Picture
The percentage of minority attorneys at the nation's largest law firms held relatively steady last yearand considering how fragile diversity numbers can be, we'll consider that good news. According to the latest Diversity Scorecard by our sibling publication The American Lawyer, 13.6 percent of lawyers at the nation's largest firms in 2011 were minority lawyers, compared to 13.9 percent in 2010.
But we're not too worried about the slight dip, for two reasons. First, we've tweaked the methodology. In past Scorecards, we've based our results on lawyer head counts. In collecting data for 2011, we asked firms to calculate full-time equivalent (FTE) numbers for the entire calendar year. This means that part-time attorneys are prorated in our statistics. This also means that the number of minority associates may have dropped at firms where the new class of associates starts in September, because those incoming associates now count for a quarter of what they once did. And this in turn may have caused some firms to perform less well under our new methodology because an incoming class of associates is often the most diverse group of attorneys in a firm.
The other reason for the slight decrease: More firms responded to our survey in 2011, and many of these new respondents have less diversity, thus bringing down the overall average. A total of 233 firms participated in this year's Scorecard, up from 194 in 2010. And many of the new respondents rank in the bottom of our Scorecard.
Despite these changes, there aren't any drastic dips from last year's numbers. The overall percentage of minority attorneys may appear to have taken a slight dip, but some of our other stats give cause for optimism. The percentage of minority partners, for example, stayed relatively stable6.9 percent in 2011, compared to 7.0 in 2010. Even better news: Minority partner promotions were on the rise in 2011, increasing to 14.7 percent of all promotions from 14.4 percent in 2010. Minority lateral partners also jumpedfrom 11.4 percent of all lateral hires in 2010 to 16.4 percent last year.
The upswing in minority hires and promotions last year makes sense to Arin Reeves, a diversity consultant with Nextions LLC who advises Am Law 200 firms. Before the recession, says Reeves, firms focused on recruiting large incoming classes as a means to boost their diversity. Since the recession, she says, "there's been a paradigm shift," as the size of entering classes has shrunk to a new, smaller norm. Improved market conditions are making it a more fluid environment for minority lawyers to move to other firmsand firms are trying to do a better job of holding on to their lawyers of color. Without that incoming boost to diversity numbers, firms are doing more to retain the minorities they have, she says. "The focus now is on having these lawyers stay and thrive," Reeves says.
This year's number oneranked firm on the Scorecard, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, jumped from its spot at number five last year thanks, in part, to its minority lateral hires and promotions. With 124 minority partners, the firm now boasts the largest number and percentage of minority partners among survey respondents. Lewis Brisbois's director of marketing, Jody Jackson, says that her firm "has no diversity committees, no initiatives" in place to bolster diversity numbers. "We hire good lawyers, and diversity is just part of who we are," she says. The Los Angelesbased firm, founded in 1979, has 21 offices across the country and 804 attorneys. It ranked number 92 in The Am Law 100 this year, its first appearance in our annual survey of the country's highest-grossing firms.
Lewis Brisbois's new number one ranking knocked long-standing diversity frontrunner Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati to second place. Nonetheless, Wilson Sonsini still performed wellits percentage of minority attorneys actually increased, from 25.4 percent in 2010 to 26.2 percent in 2011, as did its percentage of minority partners, rising from 18.5 percent to 19.9 percent. There was some more reshuffling in the Scorecard's top rankings this year. Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewyunranked last year because it didn't respond to our surveytook the number three spot. Munger, Tolles & Olson dipped from third place to fourth (though its percentage of minority lawyers stayed steady at 23.4 percent), and Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle (which also didn't respond to last year's survey) rounds out the top five.
In its first appearance on the Scorecard, Detroit-based litigation firm Bowman and Brooke grabbed the number eight spot. Detroit managing partner Lawrence Mann says his firm's diversity numbers have been constant, but the firm is now large enough to qualify for our survey. Sixteen of the firm's 88 partners are minoritieswhich translates into 18.2 percent, the fifth-highest percentage of minority partners in our survey.
"As a litigation firm, diversity is one of our assets," says Mann, himself an African American. "But we view diversity as a process, not a metric." Having people of color in leadership roles helps, as a "visible symbol" of success in the firm. However, he says, the process of bolstering diversity starts from the "bottom up, not just from the top down." In other words, minority associates and partners of all levels need to feel a strong sense of inclusion to stick around.
Daniel Marti, the chair of the diversity council at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton (ranked 101), agrees. "We are really redoubling our efforts when it comes to inclusion and retention of minority lawyers," he says. The firm is the result of a January 2011 merger between Kilpatrick & Stockton, which was number 147 on our survey last year, and Townsend and Townsend, which was number 10. "We're working more closely than ever with management to continue to seek out minority partners and associates," says Marti. "And we're being more proactive with retention."
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton also saw a boost in its ranking this yearmoving up to number 38 from number 79 in 2010. The firm added nine new minority lateral partners and had one minority partner promotion, giving it a total of 20 minority partnersa 25 percent increase from 2010. "Diversity is constantly something we're actively focusing on," says Dianne Baquet Smith, chair of the firm's diversity committee. "The market has opened up, and we've had more minority lateral hires," Smith says. "But weand all firmsneed to be vigilant. It's something we always strive to improve."
And, we hope, that striving will yield results.