Correction: This story has been updated to correct a statement that Andrews Kurth has no equity minority partners; it should state the firm has no new equity minority partners.

In its eighth year tracking minority-lawyer representation, the Dallas Diversity Task Force (DDTF) issued a report Oct. 9 that shows some progress but also significant setbacks among top Dallas firms.

“We’re going backwards. It’s a little disappointing. I don’t know how to sugarcoat this,” says DDTF’s 2013 chairwoman Rosa Orenstein, a partner in Dallas’ Sullivan & Holston and 30-year Dallas lawyer.

The DDTF is a coalition of the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association, Dallas Asian American Bar Association and the J.L. Turner Legal Association, which represents African-American attorneys.

Orenstein points to the study’s findings that the number of minority equity partners at Dallas’s top 20 firms fell in 2013 about 50 percent from2012. Out of 799 equity partners at the top Dallas firms, only 20 are minorities according to the DDTF’s findings in the report titled ” Law Firm Diversity Report Dallas – 2013.”

The DDTF reports states that 16 percent of the Dallas firms have no minority equity partners, 68 percent have no African-American/black equity partners, 47 percent have no Asian-American equity partners, 42 percent have no Hispanic/Latino equity partners, and 74 percent have no Native-American equity partners.

Orenstein says the year-to-year drop in minority equity partners represents “a mystery,” but may reflect “the very difficult legal market.”

The report shows minority lawyers as a percentage of total lawyers dropped from 11.94 percent to 11.59 percent at the 20 largest firms in Dallas.

The number of African-American lawyers dropped from 3.33 percent to 2.98 percent, and Hispanic lawyers dropped from 4.11 percent to 4.05 percent. Only Asian American lawyers as a percent of total lawyers rose from 3.59 percent to 3.72 percent.

The DDTF report also shows a 2013 uptick in nine of the large Dallas firms’ performances in diversifying, based on the task force’s composite scoring standards.

The DDTF calculates a composite score for each of the 20 surveyed firms based on a firm’s number of minority lawyers; number of minority equity partners; and the diversity across minority groups represented in its lawyer ranks. For the score, the task force weighs minority equity partners more heavily than all other minority attorneys at a firm and considers the firm’s record of hiring attorneys from each of five different minority categories when calculating the firm’s composite score. The DDTF notes in the report that the composite score also takes into account a firm’s most recent successes in hiring minority attorneys.

The composite score measures each firm against two benchmarks: the state’s population and the racial and ethnic composition of State Bar of Texas members. Potential values for the composite score range from zero to 100. If a firm scores 100, that means it likely meets the percentages of minority residents in Texas for each minority group, while a score of at least 70 indicates that a firm likely meets the state’s minority attorney percentages.

The composite calculations also factor in recruiting efforts, such as attendance at minority job fairs.

Jumps

Strasburger & Price and Andrews Kurth both improved their composite scores more than 11 points.Mark Solomon, managing partner of the Dallas office of Andrews Kurth, says his firm takes several steps to add minorities to its lawyer rolls, including participating in minority law school events and minority job conferences.

His firm has no new minority partners but improved its score based on its recent increased recruiting as well as participation in minority recruiting fairs.Solomon says, with partnership selections currently underway, he doesn’t expect that to change in the immediate future. But he hopes it will and plans to have the firm representatives continue attending minority recruitment fairs and making its interest in hiring minorities known whenever possible.

“It’s something that absolutely has to be a continued focus for us,” Solomon says.

Solomon believes that the DDTF report helps his firm and others “keep your eye on the ball,” in terms of minority hiring.

“Nobody wants to go down on the roster in a given year. I don’t know if it actually changes behavior, since we — I do believe we all understand, from a business point of view as well as ethical and moral one, this is important,” he says.

Dan Butcher, the managing partner of Strasburger, says his firm also participates in minority recruiting fairs and plans to continue. He says that firmwide, half of the summer associate class were minorities this year.

“As we bring in laterals and law students, we look for opportunities to hire minorities,” Butcher says.

He welcomes the DDTF study because it “keeps people focused” but also shows his firm what other firms are doing.

Butcher says he agrees that minority representation at the equity-partner tier is an appropriate ultimate measure of the progress Dallas firms have made diversifying. He notes that the 50 percent drop of minority equity partners at all Dallas firms reflects also the small actual numbers of minority equity partners in Dallas; a couple dozen minority equity partners can shift the percentages significantly.

But, he says Dallas firms “have to look into the reasons why” so few minority equity partners are among them “and do the things that are necessary to change that.”

Weil, Gotshal & Manges consistently has had the highest composite score since 2007. Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, which had the lowest composite score in 2012, had the most improved composite score from 2011 — an almost 17 point bump — did not participate in the 2013 survey. Glenn West, the managing partner of Weil, did not return a call by press time, nor did Lauren Farruya, a spokeswoman for Munsch.

See related chart: Dallas Diversity Task Force Reporting.