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Each year, the Diversity Scorecard finds small but consistent increases in the proportion of minority lawyers at large firms. In 2001, only about one partner in 30 was a lawyer of color. Now it’s about one partner in 20. That’s definitely progress. But it’s slow progress, and it raises the obvious question: How long will it take before large law firms � particularly their partnerships � mirror the general U.S. population, where almost one of every three citizens is a person of color? The likely answer: Decades. At least, that is the conclusion suggested by this year’s Diversity Scorecard. For the first time, we asked firms to tell us how many of the new partners added during that calendar year � whether promoted or hired laterally � were minority lawyers. (As always, we group together equity and nonequity partners.) What we found is that some 2.1 percent of newly promoted partners in 2006 were African-American; 5.5 percent were Asian-American; and 2.4 percent were Hispanic. That means that firms are not promoting minority associates at rates that reflect their current numbers in the pool of nonpartner attorneys. They are not promoting them at rates that reflect the proportions of minority lawyers among newly minted J.D.s. And, at least for African-American and Hispanic associates, firms are very far from promoting them at rates that reflect their numbers in the general population: about 13 percent African-American, 4 percent Asian-American, and 13 percent Hispanic. Why the disparity? Why aren’t more minority associates becoming partners? That’s a hotly debated question right now, especially in the wake of the 2006 study by UCLA law professor Richard Sander that argues that firms are hiring minority lawyers who are inadequately prepared for big-firm practice. Many hiring and diversity partners dispute that theory, saying that firms could do much more to retain minority associates and groom them for partnership. Our survey doesn’t have a definitive answer. But one thing’s clear: The upper ranks of large law firms are going to stay very white for a long time to come. CAVEATS Adding questions about new partners was just one of this year’s changes to our survey methodology. In previous years, data for the Diversity Scorecard was collected as part of the NLJ 250 survey, then reconfirmed separately before being published. This time, we sent a stand-alone survey to firms to find out how many minority lawyers they have. (Following our practice in past years, we focused only on lawyers who are U.S. citizens, to avoid having our results affected by the ethnic makeup of foreign offices.) As with any break from a well-established routine, there were some hiccups along the way. Most importantly, more firms than in past years declined to participate. Last time, 240 firms from the NLJ 250 and the Am Law 200 provided information for the Diversity Scorecard; this time, 209 firms responded. A lower participation rate, unfortunately, means that the Scorecard presents a less complete view of law firm diversity. Since some of the least diverse firms in the survey dropped out, there’s a strong likelihood that the Scorecard is presenting a slightly rosier view of big-firm diversity than it should. While the numbers � and, for the most part, the rankings � for individual firms won’t be affected, the overall averages will be skewed slightly upward. So although the Scorecard shows that the percentage of minority lawyers at firms surveyed jumped from 11.3 percent in 2006 to 12.4 percent and the percentage of minority partners went from 5 percent to 5.7 percent, please take those numbers with a light dash of salt. The actual increase, had we been able to survey the same universe of firms as in previous years, might have been slightly smaller. Other averages, such as the relative percentages of minority lawyers, are less likely to be affected. (The number of minority lawyers in nonparticipating firms is too small to have much impact on these statistics.) This year, Asian-Americans registered noteworthy gains at the partnership level. Among minority partners, 36.1 percent were Asian-American, up from 33.5 percent in 2006. Previously, African-American lawyers made up the largest contingent of minority partners, but this year only 31 percent were African-American.
CHARTING PROGRESS An editorial error left Paul, Hastings off our chart summing up the Diversity Scorecard results for the top 25 firms and key California players. Paul Hastings, which placed fifth on the Cal Law 25 this year, ranked 50th on the diversity chart. Click here for the updated chart. For the full Diversity Scorecard, listed alphabetically, click here. (Your Cal Law login may be required)

We hope that in the future those firms that decided not to participate in the survey will reconsider. Admittedly, their diversity numbers may not be stellar now, but ask any athlete or dieter: It’s easier to improve when you measure your performance. LEADING THE PACK Among the diversity winners, New York’s Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison tops the list for the second year in a row, confounding our prediction that a runner-up might grab the number one spot. Instead, Paul, Weiss pulled comfortably ahead of most of its nearest rivals, raising its percentage of minority attorneys from 23.0 percent to 25.3 percent. Only Palo Alto’s Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati remained close on Paul, Weiss’s heels, with 25.2 percent of its lawyers belonging to a minority group.

Here’s the most telling statistic: Among the 20 most diverse firms, which together made 160 new partners last year, exactly one black attorney was promoted to partner.

(We should point out that Miami’s Adorno & Yoss, which is 38 percent minority, easily outpaces all the firms on the Scorecard in terms of diversity. However, we do not include Adorno & Yoss in the Scorecard because some of its offices are affiliates rather than fully merged operations. In this, we are following the practice of our sibling publication The American Lawyer, which does not include the firm in its Am Law 200 survey alongside more financially integrated firms.) Our new data on partner promotions and lateral hires allows us to take a closer look at what firms are doing to maintain and build their diversity. There’s room for some optimism in the results. There’s also plenty of room for improvement. First, the encouraging part. The most diverse firms are obviously working hard at adding more color to their partnerships. Across the Scorecard as a whole, 11.0 percent of all newly promoted partners were lawyers of color. For the top 20 firms, however, 16.3 percent of new partners were minority lawyers. That makes sense; after all, if a firm has more minority associates to begin with, more are likely to end up as partners.
MOST DIVERSE A nationwide snapshot of the most diverse firms, nationwide Highest Percentage Jenkens & Gilchrist 18.3% Wilson Sonsini 15.1% Akerman Senterfitt 13.7% Munger, Tolles 13.5% Irell & Manella 12.2% Townsend and Townsend 12.2% Milbank, Tweed 11.8% Epstein Becker 10.8% Paul,Weiss 10.5% Howrey 10.3% Kenyon & Kenyon 10.3% O’Melveny & Myers 10.3% Highest Number Greenberg Traurig 58 Holland & Knight 54 McDermott,Will 38 DLA Piper 37 Morrison & Foerster 35 Sidley Austin 35 Akerman Senterfitt 34 Latham & Watkins 34 Kirkland & Ellis 33 Jones Day 31 For more snapshots, including demographic breakdowns, click here.

The top 20 firms are also hiring more minority lateral partners: 14.4 percent of their lateral hires were lawyers of color, versus 11.3 percent of lateral hires for all the Scorecard firms. Again, there’s probably an element of success breeding success here. Minority laterals are often more inclined to join a firm known to be diversity-friendly. But the magnitude of the difference in hiring rates also suggests that these firms are simply more aggressive in seeking out talented minority lawyers to bring on board. Whatever the reason, it seems that the most diverse firms have a significant edge when it comes to improving their diversity still further. However, Asian-American and Hispanic lawyers are benefiting far more than black lawyers from this activity. At the top 20 firms, Asian-American lawyers made up almost two-thirds of new partners and almost half of lateral hires, while Hispanic attorneys accounted for nearly a third of new partners and almost a third of all lateral hires. What about African-American lawyers? Here’s the most telling statistic: Among the 20 most diverse firms, which together made 160 new partners last year, exactly one black attorney was promoted to partner. (African-American intellectual property litigator Rachel Adams became a partner at Howrey in January 2006.) Let’s hope that, in future years, some of the 350-odd black nonpartners currently employed at these 20 firms have a better shot at partnership. In fact, even at the most diverse firms, minority partners are not being made at the rates one would expect from the makeup of the nonpartner pool. In other words, the ranks of new partners are noticeably whiter than the ranks of nonpartners. At the top 20 firms, a quarter of all nonpartners (mostly composed of associates, though including some other positions) are lawyers of color. Yet the percentage of minority attorneys among new partners is much lower � 16.3 percent. Looking at all of the 209 firms in the Scorecard, the difference is even more dramatic. Last year, whites made up 82.8 percent of all nonpartners, but 89 percent of new partners, meaning that white associates still have a better chance of making partner than associates of color. Among minority lawyers, only Asian-American lawyers are being promoted to partner at rates that bear some relation to their presence in the U.S. population at large. Even then, the proportion of newly minted Asian-American partners is significantly smaller than the proportion of Asian-American nonpartners at large firms. One possible explanation is that very few Asian-American nonpartners are senior enough to be considered for partnership. If that’s true, in the next few years we should see the percentage of Asian-Americans among new partners rise dramatically, as more Asian-Americans rise through the associate ranks. If that increase doesn’t happen, the question will be what is standing between Asian-American associates and partnership. As for African-American and Hispanic lawyers, firms are slightly more likely to hire them as lateral partners than to promote them from within. While 3.4 percent of lateral partner hires were black and 2.8 percent were Hispanic, only 2.1 percent of new partners were African-American and 2.4 percent were Hispanic.

Diversity Viewpoints

Our ongoing Hot Topic page rounds up the latest stories about efforts to improve diversity in the legal profession, plus the specific challenges and milestones of that journey.

With the data at hand, we can do a simple calculation. If the law firms in our survey continue to promote about 2,000 associates to partner per year, and make new minority partners at the same rate they did last year, over the next 20 years they will make about 800 new black partners, about 2,200 new Asian-American partners, and about 1,000 new Hispanic partners. That’s not terrible. Those figures actually represent quite a few more minority partners than are working at the surveyed firms right now. (Our survey counted 721 African-American partners, 840 Asian-American partners, and 689 Hispanic partners.) But firms can do better. Much better. Emily Barker is the editor of Minority Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate.

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