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Professor Richard Sander’s “The Racial Paradox of the Corporate Law Firm” represents a major step backward in the legal community’s attempt to fully integrate America’s largest firms. For purposes of discussion, we do not question or debate Professor Sander’s statistical analysis, but we do emphatically disagree with his conclusions. When statistical data is applied to incorrect and questionable assumptions, one is left with flawed conclusions. We believe this article harmfully perpetuates stereotypical beliefs that impede the success of nonwhites, and blacks in particular, in the legal profession. According to Professor Sander, large law firm associates with higher grades “are more likely to prosper and be promoted,” and minority associates hired with lesser grades enter the workplace “at a great disadvantage.” He claims it is indisputable that “the larger the credentials gap between minority and white associates, the greater the likelihood that a given minority associate will turn out not to measure up.” He posits that this results in ” . . . a regular influx of minority associates who are very often less able and, in other cases, merely perceived as being less able.” From this, Professor Sander concludes “ grades matter.” Although this may be true for hiring decisions, once employed, grades neither guarantee nor define success in the workplace. Law firm candidates are recruited based on a multitude of factors, including community involvement, writing skills, work experience, temperament and personality, ability to solve complex problems, leadership skills, oral advocacy skills, interest in the firm, commitment to the legal practice, and “fit” within the workplace. A combination of these attributes is what attracts the employer; one without the other cuts at an associate’s appeal, though neither one is indispensable to the whole. Grades are a factor in hiring decisions because at one level, they permit employers to draw conclusions about a student’s work ethic, analytical skills, and organizational and planning abilities. But any grade-based assessment of a student’s abilities is based primarily upon the student’s performance within a scholastic setting. Grades function as a litmus test for a student’s prowess in academia, and so are not necessarily indicative of his or her savvy once within the workplace. To give grades any greater weight would be erroneous. Because the workplace environment is different from that of the classroom, the requisites for success there must necessarily differ (even despite occasional overlap). It follows that, once an associate passes academic muster or whatever the hiring threshold may be, the associate’s workplace capabilities quickly become the features that measure his or her talent. As Professor Sander’s article admits, there are “a multiplicity of skills [unrelated to grades] that go into being a good lawyer: social skills involved in negotiating with opposing counsel or cultivating new clients; management skills in supervising other attorneys and support staff; speaking skills; leadership qualities; and those indefinable qualities of judgment and common sense.” These skills, which we all acknowledge as fundamental, cannot be discounted in one’s work nor replaced by the “good” grades one received before his or her “work” begins. No doubt, nonwhites, and blacks, in particular, are aware that they are perceived differently than their white counterparts in the workplace. However, this perception need not flow from lower grades, but may result from the professional culture’s lack of familiarity and experience with nonwhites who are now entering a world to which they were formerly excluded. Armed with this knowledge, many blacks feel the need to work twice as hard, focusing their attention on the workplace attributes outlined above. To the extent that such blacks still have less social contact with partners, receive work assignments which require less responsibility, or are exposed to lesser mentorship and training, that could suggest a problem with the system, not necessarily the person. Another issue with Professor Sander’s article that cannot be ignored is the assumed definition of success within the legal profession. The idea that success for lawyers is defined by their ability to make partner at a large law firm is naive at best. Success is many things, and while becoming a partner at a law firm is one of them, it is only one. A lawyer can be successful as a full-time parent, in-house counsel, working for the government, or even by becoming a law school professor. None of these is better or worse than the others, and all of them are successes in their own right. Further, law firm attrition numbers cannot completely tell the story Professor Sander aims to tell. Professor Sander completely ignores the role individual choice plays in law firm attrition. Attorneys leave law firms for a variety of reasons. Some leave because they are presented with opportunities that they cannot pass up, others leave because they feel that a law firm inhibits them from doing bigger, and more rewarding things. Whatever their reason, they do not, and we should not, see their departure as a failure. We are certain that many whites have left large law firms to pursue other opportunities. No one is suggesting that we redefine their future successes as failures; nor should we with nonwhites. We fundamentally disagree with the conclusions that Professor Sander reaches in his article. More importantly, we encourage and welcome black law students to continue to apply to corporate law firms. We are constantly striving to provide an open and welcoming work environment in which everyone succeeds. Raymond C. Marshall, Renee M. Dupree and Elizabeth Hall practice in Bingham McCutchen’s San Francisco office.

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