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In a story in our last issue, we mentioned that Legal Times has been publishing financial and head count information on law firms since its inception 30 years ago. This issue, however, marks the first time we have attempted to produce a comprehensive report about another important aspect of law firm culture — diversity. During the past few years we have increasingly heard from managing partners how their clients are putting more emphasis on diversity, probing firms for specific numbers and requiring detailed break-outs in responses to RFPs. We’d like to report that such pressure and the internal efforts by firms have produced a meaningful change in the amount of diversity in D.C. law offices. But, as the data on the following pages make clear, firms still have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to promoting diversity in the partnership ranks. As the bar charts on this page make clear (below), among the 150 largest law offices in the D.C. metropolitan area, fewer than 6 percent of partners are members of a racial minority. The story in the associate ranks is a little better, where 12 percent are racial minorities. Firms have been more successful in bridging the gender gap. Among the LT 150, 19 percent of partners are women, and 31 percent of big-firm associates are female. That’s better, but it still lags behind the 51 percent of graduating law students who are female.

The numbers demonstrate that the big hurdle facing women and minority lawyers is not so much getting in the door as an associate, but staying long enough to make partner. The process by which partners are made largely defies objective analysis. Sure, billable hours, intellectual acumen, and interpersonal skills all figure into the mix, but any honest member of the managing committee will acknowledge that there is something more involved, something, for lack of a better word, political. Too often in law firms, as in life, women and minorities are at a disadvantage in that milieu. In presenting these numbers and rankings for the first time, we hope to spur more debate on the diversity issue and get firms thinking about how they approach the issue. To that end we offer a piece by Altman Weil consultant Virginia Essandoh, who notes that, despite the fact that almost every large law firm in America has some kind of program to promote diversity, they’ve had less-than-stellar results. She argues persuasively for a dramatic overhaul of diversity programs featuring a fresh nine-step approach. Jeremiah DeBerry, director of diversity for New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, argues that it’s not enough simply to have a diversity program: Success depends on having directors who are not only passionate about the issue, but are themselves minority attorneys with firsthand experience practicing in big firms. Cherie Kiser, managing partner of the D.C. office of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, fingers a familiar culprit for the difficulty women experience in big-law life: the billable hour. Overreliance on billables as a measure of worth, Kiser argues, diminishes the chances of success for many women who need a more flexible work structure due to competing demands in their personal lives. Finally, our own Attila Berry sets out to solve an enduring mystery of the D.C. legal world: Where are all the big minority law firms? In a place that features both the highest concentration of lawyers in the world and the highest percentage of minorities of any American city, shouldn’t minority-owned law firms be flourishing in the District? We take a look at some reasons why that hasn’t come to pass. Not all the news on the diversity front is bad, of course. Particularly when it comes to recruiting female associates, many firms show respectable numbers. At the top of our rankings for D.C. offices is King & Spalding, where more than 43 percent of the lawyers are women, including 15 of the 48 partners. Among home-grown Washington firms, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and Hogan & Hartson feature relatively good performances on hiring women, with 43 percent and 38 percent of their D.C.-based lawyers, respectively, and just under a quarter of their partners, being female. Not surprisingly, the numbers for minority lawyers are not so promising. Among large Washington firms, Nixon Peabody, Covington & Burling, and Winston & Strawn rank highest, with just over 18 percent of their ranks made up of minority lawyers. Even among these firms, however, minority partners are sparse. At Covington, for example, only six of 124 partners, or less than 5 percent, are minorities. At Arnold & Porter, only nine of 140 partners are minorities, while at Wilmer it’s 13 of 126. Hogan didn’t even crack the top 30 on minority diversity. Big out-of-town firms didn’t fare much better. In Latham & Watkins’ D.C. office, only three of the 87 partners are minorities. The intent of these observations, and of the rankings in this section, is not to single out D.C. firms on this issue — on the whole they are very much in line, if not a bit better, than law firms nationally — but to start a conversation. We invite your feedback and your thoughts.


Douglas McCollam can be contacted at [email protected].

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