The Legal Intelligencer's fourth annual diversity survey of Pennsylvania's 24 largest plaintiffs firms showed no improvement in the number of female attorneys they employ and only a slight improvement regarding minority attorneys.
Despite showing the addition of six trial attorneys in Pennsylvania since last year's survey, the 2010 survey yielded almost identical figures with regard to the number of minority and female lawyers currently practicing at the state's largest plaintiffs firms.
This year, out of 331 attorneys, 19, or about 5.7 percent, were from racial minority groups.
This result represents only a slight increase in the percentage of minorities in the plaintiffs bar.
Last year's survey found 18 minority attorneys, which accounted for about 5.5 percent of the plaintiffs bar's 325 attorneys.
The number of firms without any minority attorneys did improve slightly this year, however, dropping from 16 last year to 13 this year.
The number of firms with more than one minority attorney rose from five to six, however.
Meanwhile, the percentage of women attorneys at Pennsylvania's largest plaintiffs firms in 2010 dropped from 23 percent last year to 22 percent this year, as the total number of female lawyers dipped from 74 to 73.
After last year's dramatic dip in the number of firms made up of 30 percent or more female attorneys from nine to four, that figure also remained the same this year.
As in the past three years, the difference in the percentage of women attorneys varied widely from more than 50 percent to zero, but where four firms had no female attorneys last year, only two fell into that category in 2010.
Only one firm had neither a female nor a minority attorney.
Just as they have been the past three years, the statistics were collected by taking information from plaintiffs firms' websites, which was put forward to the firms for confirmation. As in previous surveys, some firms did not confirm the results. To the degree that it could be compared, information in the 2009 edition of The Legal's annual magazine, PaLAW, mirrored the findings.
But despite these lackluster statistics, many plaintiffs firm leaders The Legal spoke to uttered what has become a familiar refrain over the last few years: The intention to improve diversity is stronger than ever, but putting it into practice remains difficult.
"I think while overall, if we looked at the data and the numbers, the results may be a little discouraging, the effort and awareness is encouraging," said Mark W. Tanner, president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association for the 2007-08 term.
It was during Tanner's term that both the PTLA and the Pennsylvania Association for Justice created programs geared toward improving diversity in the plaintiffs bar following the publication of The Legal Intelligencer's first diversity survey in 2007.
Tanner told The Legal Monday that he's seen plaintiffs firms making "genuine and sincere efforts" to increase their diversity over the past few years.
"I can only believe that from that type of initiative results will follow," he said.
Timothy Conboy, president of the PAJ and a partner at Caroselli Beachler McTiernan & Conboy in Pittsburgh, echoed that there has been "a conscious effort" in plaintiffs bars across the state to improve diversity.
Conboy's 19-attorney firm currently has six female lawyers but no minority attorneys.
Tanner's firm, 17-lawyer Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig in Philadelphia, is one of the more diverse in the state, with four female attorneys, one African American and one Asian attorney, but still saw no improvement over the past year.
In fact, it lost a female lawyer.
Still, Tanner said his firm remains devoted to becoming more diverse and has worked to improve its relationships with minority bar associations and to increase its participation in diversity-themed events in an effort to widen its pool of hiring candidates.
"I don't think there's any magic bullet," he said. "It's just ongoing vigilance and sensitivity to the issue. Everybody needs to be on the lookout for opportunities."
Emmanuel O. Iheukwumere, head of the minority-owned plaintiffs firm Emmanuel Law Firm in Philadelphia and at-large governor on the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Board of Governors representing Pennsylvania minority lawyers, said that while the fact that only one of the six attorneys who joined the firms surveyed over the past year was a woman or minority does reflect poorly on those firms' diversity efforts, he does still believe progress is being made.
"I believe there has been a genuine attempt by many firms to have diverse practices," he said. "But it appears whatever measures they're using are not enough."
Still, Iheukwumere lauded Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law for its cooperation with the PTLA's program that seeks to pair minority law students with mentors.
Iheukwumere said he believes some of these mentor-mentee relationships could eventually result in a more diverse plaintiffs bar.
"When you are around someone for some time, you can gauge how effective they would be as a lawyer and you may be more amenable to hiring such an individual," he said, adding, "I wish the other area law schools -- Temple, Penn and Villanova -- would copy what Drexel's doing, but there's kind of a reluctance to copy the new kid on the block."
Iheukwumere also named the PBA's Annual Diversity Summit as another effective program that allows minority lawyers to network.
Nadeem A. Bezar, a partner at Kolsby Gordon Robin Shore & Bezar in Philadelphia and a member of the board of governors of both the PAJ and the PTLA, was similarly optimistic in spite of the statistics, saying diversity is "at the forefront of virtually every discussion on how firms are run and who's being hired in firms."
Three of Kolsby Gordon's nine attorneys are female and the firm also employs two Asian attorneys.
Bezar said his firm's last three hires were either women or minorities, but stressed that he has not changed what he looks for in terms of a lawyer's skills and qualifications."I'm hiring quality and according to my needs," he said. "But if there's an awareness that perhaps there should be more diversity, it just happens."
Like Tanner, Bezar said continued conversation about the need for a more diverse plaintiffs bar will eventually bear fruit.
Steven G. Wigrizer of Wapner Newman Wigrizer Brecher & Miller in Philadelphia said firms can diversify their hires without having to sacrifice quality or even widen their pools of candidates.
"I think there are ample qualified candidates from every school who happen to be diverse, so it does not require much in the way of extra effort," he said.
Over the past year, Wapner Newman has added one female attorney and two minority attorneys, but Wigrizer said diversity is generally slow to improve in the plaintiffs bar because plaintiffs firms tend not to hire often. Stewart J. Eisenberg, a former president of the PAJ and immediate past president of the PTLA, said the recession has slowed hiring even more.
"Certain firms have hired lawyers but the more common theme has been for firms to stand pat and hold their own in terms of personnel and lawyers," he said.
Iheukwumere acknowledged that diversity is not easy to achieve in firms with low turnover rates but said the key is for firms to "move beyond their comfort zones" when they do hire.
"They really need to be looking beyond the narrow scope," he said. "It's not just a question of asking your friends if they know someone who's looking for a job. If you continue with such a practice, you will likely get people who think and look alike."