After close scrutiny of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in The New York Times, the firm’s chairman, Brad Karp, in a firmwide email Sunday took issue with the newspaper’s portrayal and told partners and employees that the firm’s diversity record has exceeded its peer firms.
Karp sent the internal email several hours after the Times published a report Sunday examining Paul Weiss’ diversity struggles, including the controversy generated by its promotion of a notably non-diverse new partner class last month. The Times report described obstacles for women and minority lawyers to succeed and be promoted at Paul Weiss, such as inconsistent approaches to mentoring, business development opportunities and client contact.
The Times said it spoke to more than 20 women and people of color for its story, which had attracted more than 600 reader comments by Monday afternoon.
Karp, in his email Sunday to partners and employees, said he agrees that diversity remains a challenge in the profession and “at a firm like ours.”
But, he wrote, “Our view of diversity at Paul Weiss is different from the picture painted by The New York Times.”
“We do not believe that mentoring, teaching and opportunities at our firm are allocated based on gender or race. Our female lawyers and lawyers of color—current and former, partners and associates—have consistently played leading roles on our largest matters, for our most important clients, working with a diverse group of our most prominent partners,” Karp wrote.
In the internal email, Karp praised Paul Weiss’ diversity record, including being the first major law firm to hire an African-American associate and to elect a female partner.
He also compared Paul Weiss’ track record with other elite New York firms. The firm has “more African-American equity partners than any of our New York peer firms, including two of the most prominent African-American lawyers in the United States, Ted Wells and Jeh Johnson,” Karp wrote Sunday.
“When you look at our record of advancing women and lawyers of color over any meaningful period of time, we have performed at the very top of the legal profession and significantly better than our peer firms,” he added.
While the firm was still proud of its “outstanding additions” to the partnership this year, Karp wrote that he held himself “personally accountable” for a partnership class that is lacking in gender and racial diversity.
Going forward, Karp wrote, the firm has steps taken to improve, including partner and associate town halls to encourage diversity discussions and creating an “inclusion task force” comprised of a diverse group of partners, counsel and associates. The task force will develop and “swiftly implement concrete recommendations” to focus on the partnership pipeline and improving mentoring, training and opportunity, Karp wrote.
Karp, in a bar association panel event Jan. 15, also said each Paul Weiss partner will now have to address his and her own diversity and inclusion efforts as part of the firm’s compensation evaluation at the end of the year.
The New York Times report was published on the same day that Paul Weiss announced that it had has hired leading appellate litigator Kannon Shanmugam from Williams & Connolly—one of the most prominent persons of color in the U.S. Supreme Court bar.
When reached for comment Monday about the Times report, Karp told ALM, “The note I sent to the Paul Weiss community last night speaks for itself.” He declined further comment.
A ‘Painful’ Lesson
During the bar association event and in his Sunday email, Karp said it’s now no longer enough for firms to compare themselves with other law firms.
“One of the things we’ve been talking a lot at the firm over the past couple months is we have to measure ourselves differently,” Karp said Jan. 15. “We may start with 45 or 50 percent women, by the time partnership comes, we’ve lost 10 or 15 percent. Why is that? Is it self-selection? Is that the training and the mentoring and the opportunity are not provided in equal manner? Something’s happening along the way, so we have to explore that and we have to aim higher.”
While many large law firms are struggling to increase their women and minority lawyer head count, The New York Times report highlights how one instance of falling back in diversity efforts can have broader reaching consequences for any one firm—both in public relations and possibly revenue. Separately on Sunday, spurred in large part by Paul Weiss’ most recent partner promotions, more than 170 top legal officers vowed to hold their outside counsel to higher standards on diversity.
Karp, speaking on the public criticism at the Jan. 15 event, said he “cares a lot” about making sure Paul Weiss’ reputation is consistent with its values and culture.
“You have one year where you have a partnership class that is overwhelmingly white and overwhelming male,” Karp said at the event earlier this month. “You could get very, very defensive and say it’s one year, we have decades, decades and decades of other things to measure against. Or you could say, you know what, shine a spotlight on it, let us learn from it, and we’ve tried to adopt the latter approach. And it’s been painful,” Karp added, noting the publicity.
“We’ve been viewed as the exemplar of: if a liberal progressive firm could produce a partnership class like this,” Karp said, “what’s going on in Big Law?”