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The percentage of minority lawyers hired by Austin’s 26 largest law firms edged up this year, but the numbers still are too low, leaders of two minority attorney groups say. “The number of minority lawyers hired and retained by Austin largest firms has not changed significantly,” says Russell Ramirez, a sole practitioner and president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin. Of the 1,211 lawyers employed by the 26 firms, 119 — or 9.8 percent — are African-American, Hispanic, Asian or Native American, the Austin Black Lawyers Association and the Hispanic Bar reported on July 16, when they issued a report card grading the firms. Paul Ruiz, chairman of the joint committee formed by the groups to evaluate Austin firms’ minority hiring practices, says State Bar of Texas figures show that 12 percent of the lawyers licensed to practice law in Texas are minorities. NEED GROWS Minorities are the fastest growing segment of the State Bar, says Ruiz, a shareholder in Austin’s Clark, Thomas & Winters. The Bar reported last year that minorities made up 11.6 percent of its membership. This is the second year that the groups have graded the firms’ progress on minority hires. The 2000 report card, which was based on data from National Association of Law Placement forms filled out by firms, showed that 53 — or 7 percent — of the 719 lawyers at 14 Austin firms studied by the groups were minorities. [See "Survey Alleges Some Austin Firms Aren't Making the Grade," Texas Lawyer, July 3, 2000.] Last year, one firm received an “A-plus” and five got “Fs” for their efforts in hiring minority lawyers. Ramirez says many of the firms had signed a 1993 agreement pledging to increase the hiring, retention and promotion of minority lawyers. This year, the groups expanded their study to cover 26 firms and asked each to self-report statistics on its employment of minority lawyers. The groups also added a new category to determine the number of minority law clerks at each firm. Eight firms earned an “A” on the 2001 report card, while four received failing grades. The report card shows Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, one of four California-based firms with an Austin office, has the highest percentage of minority lawyers, earning it an “A-plus.” According to the report, 10 — or almost 28 percent of the firm’s 36 attorneys — are minorities, and Gray Cary has one minority partner. Paul Hurdlow, managing partner at Gray Cary, says the firm is particularly pleased with the results of the study because when the Austin office opened in 1998, it was staffed by all white male attorneys. Hurdlow says Gray Cary doesn’t recruit just to have minority lawyers but aggressively goes after minority candidates who are a “good fit” with the firm. Bickerstaff, Heath, Smiley, Pollan, Kever & McDaniel received an “A-plus” on the report card for the second year. California-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison also earned the “A-plus” rating after receiving an “F” in 2000 because the groups received inaccurate data. This year, failing grades were given to Fulbright & Jaworski, Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody and Scott, Douglass & McConnico. Fulbright & Jaworski received a “B-minus” on the 2000 report card. John Sullivan, head of employment for all the firm’s offices, says a number of minority clerks had rejected offers from the Austin office last summer. “That didn’t improve our numbers,” Sullivan says. Sullivan says he cannot comment on the accuracy of the numbers cited in this year’s report because he did not see the information that the firm submitted. But, he adds, Fulbright & Jaworski “strives very hard” to recruit minority lawyers by participating in minority job fairs and going to law schools around the country. Mike McKetta, president of Graves, Dougherty, says his firm regrets that it has not yet achieved success in recruiting minority attorneys. The firm also received an “F” last year. ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT “It’s an important area and an area we need to do better in,” says McKetta, who declines to try to explain the firm’s problem in attracting minority candidates. “Every time I hear somebody give a reason, it sounds more like an excuse,” he says. Sam Johnson, managing partner at Scott, Douglass, says his firm hires attorneys at the top of their class. While the competition for all minority attorneys is fierce, Johnson says that the competition for minority attorneys at the top of the class is five times as fierce. “We haven’t had any luck winning that competition.” The groups also gave an “F” to Armbrust Brown & Davis, which refused to participate in the survey. Gregg Krumme, chairman of the firm’s management committee, says the firm cannot participate in all the surveys it receives but is an equal opportunity employer. Krumme says Armbrust doesn’t have any black or Hispanic lawyers but has tried to hire several. The Austin office of Vinson & Elkins saw its grade fall from a “B-minus” in 2000 to a “D” on this year’s report card. Michael Marin, a senior associate with the firm, says the Austin office has undergone dramatic growth, including a number of lateral hires. The report cards show V&E’s Austin office grew from 75 lawyers in 2000 to 106 this year. “Unfortunately, our aggressive growth has overshadowed the growth that we have tried to achieve through the summer program of minority hiring,” Marin says. The Austin office of Baker Botts saw its grade improve slightly from an “F” in 2000 to a “D” this year. Robb Voyles, the Baker Botts partner in charge of the Austin office, says the failing grade that the firm received last year was inaccurate because a minority partner was not included in the count. Voyles says the firm is trying to take steps to improve its diversity. “I don’t think it’s something that happens overnight,” he says. Nikelle Meade, president of the Austin Black Lawyers Association, says the two minority groups are “seriously committed” to issuing an annual report card to grade firms on their hiring practices. The groups also are willing to work with the firms to help them hire and retain minority lawyers, says Meade, a senior associate with Brown McCarroll. The latest U.S. Census Bureau figures show that minorities make up about 47 percent of the population in Texas. “We believe … that you have to have attorneys of color to respond to the needs of those people,” Ruiz says. “As the population of the state continues to diversify, you certainly want people who understand where you’re coming from — your background, perhaps even your language — to represent you in the courts,” he says. Ruiz says he practices public utility law, but, because he is Hispanic, he frequently receives calls from Spanish-speaking people who need help. “I’m able to refer them to someone or give them some advice,” he says. Related chart: The Report Card: Minority Lawyers at Austin Firms

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