In 1995, when William Cook Jr. became Arnold & Porter’s third African-American partner, he noticed something odd. His elevation was good news for diversity in the firm’s partnership, but it left Arnold & Porter with exactly zero African-American associates.

All told, the firm could count only 17 minority attorneys among its 354 lawyers, or less than 5 percent. Many of the missing black associates had simply taken jobs in the Clinton administration. Still, the scarcity of lawyers of color was particularly striking for a place like Arnold & Porter, the first major Washington, D.C., firm to have an African-American partner and widely regarded as the capital’s leading liberal firm.

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