Over the past five years, the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group has written this monthly column. I intended for my column to be a retrospective of the many great columns that have been written and hoped to postulate that the columns were having a positive effect on the diversity landscape. However, as I read through five years of columns, it seemed that there was a recurring theme. We write, we poll, we discuss diversity, but there is no movement forward. So I ask the question: Do you care?
Apathy is not a word generally associated with lawyers, but in reading the various columns over the past five years on the now- or then-current state of diversity in the legal profession, I found myself wondering if lawyers and their respective firms have become apathetic toward diversity. These columns do not paint a picture of improvement on the diversity front. In fact, they demonstrate just the opposite — we are losing ground. Indeed, while our nation is becoming more diverse, law firms are being left behind.
Stacy Hawkins, a diversity consultant, law professor and PDLG board member, has written several columns on the reversal of diversity progress. She indicates that it is easy to be encouraged by what appears to be continual progress in increasing the diversity of the profession, but today, many reports cite what has become the excruciatingly slow pace of progress in diversifying the profession. The 2005 “Miles to Go” report of the ABA’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession (first published in 1998) notes that “minority entry into the profession has slowed considerably since the … mid-1990s,” which curiously coincides with the rise of our collective diversity commitment.
Hawkins points out that these stagnant trends are also reflected in other data on diversity in the profession. NALP’s recent analyses of the Directory of Legal Employers as well as The Minority Law Journal’s Diversity Scorecard both highlight the marginal gains and in some instances losses in overall diversity in law firms, and the very slow progress of women and minorities in ascending to the highest ranks of law firm leadership. Another sign of the lack of progress being made to achieve increased diversity in the profession is the staggering attrition rates for women and minorities in law firms, which far exceed that for white males, as published by the American Bar Association (“Visible Invisibility” Report), the National Association of Women Lawyers and others.
The numbers don’t lie. Indeed, the numbers require that we do much more in the legal profession to foster diversity. While initiating programs and implementing best practices is a commendable first step, the numbers show that these actions alone are not leading to the desired result.
To get where we would ultimately like to be, we must fully understand the problem and the roadblocks impeding our otherwise attainable success. We must devise new and creative ways to break through these roadblocks and remain persistent until we reach our goals.
To understand how to reach our goals, we must both look back in time and forward to the future as we navigate our way through the present. In 1955, the civil rights movement emerged in the United States. It marked the beginning of a worldwide movement aimed at promoting racial equality before the law.
Over the years, the movement spurred more than just a desire for racial equality; it also spawned efforts to achieve gender equality and the struggle for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. While we have made great strides as a nation toward equality since the movement began, we still must continue to strive daily to ensure that the goals of these movements come to full fruition.
Over the past 30 years, almost every major law firm has implemented a diversity program aimed at recruiting and retaining minorities and women. Still, minorities are underrepresented in the legal profession and women are underrepresented in positions of leadership.
As the former chair of the Defense Research Institute diversity committee and a current member of my firm’s national diversity committee, I am often told that the biggest impediments to more diverse law firms are: (1) the alleged dearth of qualified candidates and (2) the failure to retain those who are qualified. While the veracity of these claims is the subject of another column, for the sake of getting to the heart of this column, I will assume arguendo they are true.
If, in fact, these impediments are real, they beg a follow-up question: How do we increase the supply of diverse candidates and retain those already in our charge? Short answer: We need role models with whom diverse lawyers can identify.
A few years back, I read with interest an e-mail sent to me by a friend, who, at the time, was the head of litigation at a corporation out West. The e-mail was a reflection on leadership and the impact leaders and role models have on the answer to the question we all have asked ourselves at one time or another: “Can I see myself there one day?”
I have my friend’s permission to share his e-mail:
“I was at the Masters Tournament in 1997 when Tiger [Woods] won his first major by 12 strokes — the equivalent of lapping the field in other sports. The sense of pride and accomplishment was palpable amongst the few Blacks in attendance and the Black Folks working concessions and security. We all knowingly exchanged smiles, glances and nods at each other but respectfully did not exult openly. After all, golf was still THE White Man’s game and we were in his Temple.
“A lot has transpired in those eleven years and Tiger [Woods] has proven that his victory was not a fluke. He is the #1 golfer in the world with 13 major tournament trophies (so far) in his possession. He recently surpassed Arnold Palmer with 62 victories in his career. The complexion of the galleries at golf tournaments is no longer homogeneous. Nor is the complexion of those amateurs playing the game, and the idea of a Black golf champion is no longer unimaginable (indeed, the unimaginable is if Tiger [Woods] does not win). Before Tiger [Woods]‘s ascendance, golf was the bastion of the privileged, moneyed, White Male; and Blacks, at best, carried the bags, served the tea, shined the shoes and raked the bunkers. Now, a multi-racial Black Man is setting the agenda. Tiger [Woods] continues on his quest to become the best golfer in history.
“So what is the Tiger [Woods] Effect … ? My hypothesis is that Tiger Woods’ complete dominance over the game of golf seminally trans[formed] the concept of what is possible in [ethnically and racially diverse] Americans.”
Notwithstanding Tiger Woods’ public fall from grace since my friend wrote this e-mail, his legacy of having broken down racial barriers in golf remains, and the message of the e-mail still resonates. The message is simple and holds true for everyone, no matter your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual preference: When we see someone achieve who appears to look or be like us, we can identify with his or her success and therefore feel it is more likely that we, too, can succeed at the same level or in the same sphere.
So how does understanding the Tiger Woods effect help diversify the legal profession? Unless law firms can generate diverse role models, there will continue to be a dearth of diverse young lawyers, because diverse law students will seek out other legal positions (or even other professions) where there are role models who provide visible evidence of their potential to succeed.
For example, how many diverse attorneys can call themselves the managing partner of one of the top 100 law firms? 200 law firms? 300 law firms? How many diverse attorneys are on the executive committee of these firms? How many diverse attorneys are the managing partner of an office within these firms? When diverse attorneys look at the leadership of these firms, they need to be able to see someone who looks like them.
I wonder if we in the legal profession have Tigers among us and if our current leadership will be brave enough to allow them to play. I also wonder: Do you care? •
Raymond Williams is a partner in the products liability and toxic tort practice group of DLA Piper. Williams focuses his practice on complex products liability litigation, with an emphasis on pharmaceutical and medical device matters. He is a member of his firm’s national diversity committee and chairman of the DRI diversity committee.