By this point, most firms are making a concerted effort on a daily basis to address the industry’s longstanding struggles with the promotion and inclusion of diverse attorneys and women, but our associates survey shows more is needed to keep everyone satisfied.
Minority attorneys gave lower scores on average in every category, when compared with white midlevel associates. The most dramatic difference was in their expectation to stay two years or more at their current firm—the average score was 4.181 for white associates and 4.072 for minority associates.
Other discrepancies of note between minority and white attorneys were in partner relations (4.478 for whites and 4.381 for minorities), billables policy (4.227 for whites and 4.131 for minorities) and overall workplace rating (4.428 for whites and 4.340 for minorities).
For female attorneys, the discrepancies were even greater in certain categories. Women on average gave a satisfaction score of 4.115 for their firms’ billable hours policy, while men rated them 4.267 on average. The average overall workplace rating was 4.339 for women and 4.453 for men. And communication about partnership was rated 3.689 by women and 3.789 by men.
Associates at numerous firms suggested management could improve diversity among both associates and management. Asked how their firm could better retain associates, a fifth-year at one Am Law 100 firm responded curtly: “not be racist and sexist.”
Another associate, a third-year at an Am Law 50 firm, said their firm retains an “old-boys’ club feel” that hurts its image among young lawyers and hinders its ability to recruit and retain top candidates.
According to associates’ responses to open-ended questions on the survey, the trouble is often cultural. A fourth-year at one Am Law 100 firm said “partners turn a blind eye to sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior by their peers,” driving down associate morale in the process. Several associates suggested their firms should take a closer look at sexual harassment policies and more forcefully address harmful behavior.
“This is a pipe dream because it will never happen, but it would be nice to see the firm push out partners who have a demonstrated track record of sexual harassment or behavior that skates just up to the line of sexual harassment,” said a third-year at an Am Law 50 firm.
The issues for women at law firms extend to professional mistreatment as well, according to the survey.
“It can also manifest as systematically second-guessing or ignoring female colleagues, assigning them different responsibilities, and otherwise treating them differently than men at the equivalent level,” said an associate at an Am Law 100 firm. “I don’t think this is a problem unique to our firm by any means, but I think we could to do more to help female associates handle this kind of bias, and to help male associates recognize that such patterns of behavior are not acceptable or constructive.”