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At least one California law firm’s effort to diversify its ranks has been hampered by the economic downturn. J. Terence O’Malley, chairman and chief executive officer of Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, said that the diversity of attorney ranks at large law firms mirrors the increasing diversity of incoming classes of associates. Slow down hiring or start cutting jobs in associate ranks, and diversification efforts suffer. “We have had one of the highest growth rates in minority employment in the nation the last three years, but last year we reduced the size of the firm, and the result of that is a reduction in the number of associates,” O’Malley said. Gray Cary laid off 68 associates in two rounds, in January and August 2002, and reduced its first-year recruiting by almost 40 percent in 2002, hiring just 36 new lawyers compared to 59 in 2001. During that same period, the percentage of Gray Cary attorneys from minority groups fell from 18.3 percent in 2001 to only 12.9 percent of its 402 attorneys in 2002. Gray Cary’s drop from 13th to 34th in a 2002 survey of law firm diversity by the Minority Law Journal was the largest drop for any California firm. The third annual survey was an element of Recorder affiliate The National Law Journal‘s 2002 survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms. California firms took eight of the top 20 and 19 of the top 100 places on the survey, down just slightly from nine and 20 in 2001. But while the state’s place in the rankings is minimally changed from the previous year’s, which firms filled those positions changed dramatically. Three firms are new to the top 100, three top 100 firms no longer even exist, and three former top 20 firms are nowhere on the list at all. The highest ranking California firm was Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which came in second nationally. Unlike many firms trying to increase the diversity of their ranks, Wilson Sonsini doesn’t have sensitivity workshops for senior partners, recruitment committees or retention task forces. “The only diversity structure we have in the firm is a summer party. All the attorneys of color come,” said Fred Alvarez, a partner at Wilson Sonsini and the former president of the Bar Association of San Francisco. “In a sense it is a light-hearted way to deal with a serious issue. We used to have a dinner, but it got too big.” Of Wilson Sonsini’s 720 attorneys, 21.5 percent are now eligible for that summer party with senior management, last year held at Cafe Niebaum-Coppola in Palo Alto. Wilson is second nationally only to Steel Hector & Davis, a 195-lawyer firm in Miami that topped the list for the third year in a row with close to 37 percent minority attorneys. Akerman Senterfitt of Miami was third; New York’s Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, fourth; and San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster, fifth. New to the national top 20 are San Francisco’s Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, which moved from 21st to 13th, and Irell & Manella of Los Angeles, which jumped 31 places since the previous year to 20th nationally. Irell & Manella reported that 15.9 percent of its 245 attorneys are minorities, up from 11.7 percent of 239 attorneys in 2001. Kenneth Heitz, who was co-managing partner at Irell & Manella when the survey was taken, said the increased minority presence was due in part to firm recruiting and partly because intellectual property lawyers tend to be more diverse as a group. “There is some correlation between the fact that we have a large IP practice, so many of our attorneys have a science or engineering background, and the somewhat higher percentage of that pool that are Asian-Americans,” said Heitz. Heitz also said that former co-managing partner Morgan Chu was a magnet for Asian-American law students. “Morgan is one of the few minority co-managing partners in the country. We noticed that had some impact on really highly qualified students applying,” said Heitz. In 1998, only 11 percent of Heller’s attorneys were minorities. In 2002, that number was up to 17.5 percent of its 624 attorneys. “It is not clear why we moved up, because there have been a lot of changes in the industry. Firms have merged, firms have gone out of business. So while we’re happy, I don’t want to overstate our success,” said George Brown, a partner at Heller and co-chair of the firm’s ethnic diversity task force. “We are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until we are as diverse as the communities in which we live and work.” Other firms moved down the California chart or off it entirely. That’s in part because of a change to the survey. With the increasing global presence of America’s largest firms, the survey editors said they decided to exclude all attorneys employed overseas to make firm-to-firm comparisons easier. For the diversity scorecard, only African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Native Americans were considered minorities. One of the firms affected by the survey change was Morrison & Foerster. Fourth in the nation in 2001 with 22.2 percent of its 942 attorneys from minority groups, the firm saw that number dip to 20.2 percent in 2002. Cedric Chao, the first minority associate to make partner at MoFo more than 20 years ago, said the firm’s drop to fifth place nationally reflects the change in the survey, not in staffing. “We have offices in Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore. In all those offices we have lawyers who are Asian, who are not Asian-American. By changing whether you count them, our numbers would change,” said Chao. “Twenty percent is still a good number.” Two California firms that placed in the top 20 nationally and the top 10 statewide in 2001 were absent from the 2002 survey because they did not participate in the diversity aspect of The National Law Journal survey. In 2001, Fenwick & West was ranked 20th in the nation and ninth in California, but did not participate in 2002. A spokeswoman said in an e-mail statement that the survey requested more detail than the firm wished to disclose. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which finished 14th nationally in 2001, did not provide statistics for the 2002 survey either. Joseph Evall, a partner at Orrick and chair of its firmwide diversity committee, could not say why the firm did not participate in the survey but said no decision was made not to do so. “We have a really strong commitment to diversity and are very proud of our successes in making the firm a diverse firm,” Evall said. A.P. Carlton Jr., president of the American Bar Association, said in an e-mail statement that the survey results reinforce the need for more effort to diversify the ranks of the nation’s largest law firms. “The problems were a long time in the making, and solving them requires a committed, vigorous and both immediate and sustained response.” See related charts: Diversity Scorecard: Where California Firms Ranked Diversity Scorecard: Top 25 National Firms

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