Baker McKenzie and Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney have kicked off 2017 by hiring new diversity and inclusion officers, the latest in a series of large firms filling similar roles as they try and determine how diversity efforts fit into their businesses in a time of uncertainty and environment where women and minorities are making marginal gains in the legal workplace.
Buchanan Ingersoll recently named labor and employment partner Heather Brock in Tampa as its chief diversity and inclusion officer. Earlier this month, Baker McKenzie brought on a new North American director of diversity and inclusion in Anna Brown, who since 2001 served as Shearman & Sterling’s global director of diversity and inclusion.
Brown first joined Shearman & Sterling as a summer associate in 1990. She briefly left the firm in 1997 for an in-house position at Continuum Health Partners, but returned to Shearman & Sterling four years later as one of four founding members of its diversity committee. (The firm did not immediately return a request for comment on if it plans to replace Brown.)
“[Baker McKenzie] certainly had made a great deal of progress in this area,” Brown said. “Like many firms, they recognized there was more to be done and so we had a chance to talk and be a part of their team.”
Baker McKenzie announced Thursday the addition of 23 new North American partners and counsels, where over 40 percent of promotions were women. The number follows a general trend noted earlier this month by the National Association for Law Placement, which found that women and African Americans made small gains in representation at U.S. law firms in 2016.
According to NALP, the overall percentage of women at U.S. firms was about 34 percent in 2016, compared to 33 percent prerecession. Women accounted for 22.1 percent of partners, up from 21.5 percent in 2015. Minority partners accounted for 8.1 percent of partners in large firms in 2016, up from 7.5 percent the year prior.
The American Lawyer’s 2016 Diversity Scorecard found that 15.6 percent of Baker McKenzie’s 628 U.S. lawyers were minorities, with 7.3 percent of the firm’s partners falling in that demographic. Minority lawyers were 9 percent of Buchanan Ingersoll’s 454 lawyers in the country, but only 2.7 percent of partners, according to the Diversity Scorecard rankings.
However, despite these small advancements, there is a sense of uncertainty as to what the next year will bring for diversity efforts within the legal field.
“I really do think in our current climate there’s a lot of fear of what will happen to diversity and inclusion efforts,” Brock said. A former partner Tampa-based Fowler White Boggs, which Buchanan Ingersoll absorbed in 2014, Brock is stepping into the shoes of partner Susan Yohe in Pittsburgh, who is retiring after 16 years at the Steel City-based Am Law 200 firm.
“Part of the progress is making sure that people are open to having the conversations about inclusion and diversity,” added Brock.
The American Lawyer reported in October on Day Pitney, Hogan Lovells and Reed Smith naming new diversity directors. Barnes & Thornburg, a firm that last summer saw one of its few minority partners leave for an in-house role, subsequently appointed partner Dawn Rosemond in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as its firmwide director of diversity, professional development and inclusion.
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