The Diversity Crisis: Time to Call It Racism?

Until law firms start acting as if they believe blacks can make it in Big Law, diversity efforts won't succeed.

, The American Lawyer


Until law firms start acting as if they believe blacks can make it in Big Law, diversity efforts won't succeed.

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Originally appeared in print as Time to Call It Racism?

What's being said

  • ColorBlindJustice

    A reasonably competent former colleague on the staff of a House Democrat many years ago was a Harvard Law grad who routinely said "ax" for "ask," "birfday" for "birthday," and so on. (Many similar, albeit anecdotal examples could be cited.) Why in the world would any significant law firm hire him? How, without risking grounds for an awkward discrimination suit, would a firm mentor even bring up the need to speak proper English? And how many paying clients would be expected, in the name of diversity, to accept representation by an attorney -- even a Harvard educated attorney -- who says ax and birfday? When blacks fully accept the challenges of assimilation into the mainstream, their partnerships in law firms will begin to proportionately reflect their percentage of the population comprising bar-passing law school graduates.

  • Grade


  • J. Saint George

    Vivian, Julie, MP Queen and your new Editor, I too want to thank you for having courage to eloquently articulate what Mr. Jordan correctly identified as a problem that has been in "plain site". As the first and only (to date) African-American female lawyer in the entire state of Arizona to ever achieve the position of a non-equity partner at any national AM Law 200 firm (before leaving due to a catastrophic injury), I can say that your analysis of the problem for most of the law firms in Arizona is dead on - except that I can say that my former law firm and maybe one other law firm in all of Arizona truly knows how to mentor and grow diverse lawyers into the partnership ranks. The problem, however, cannot be fixed by just two law firms that get it. For law firm‘s that do not "get it" for the various reasons the article suggest, one of the easiest and most effective solutions to the recruitment and retention of lawyers of color is the utilization of specialized diverse lawyer placement services like Ron Jordan‘s company Cutter, White & Shaw. Because joining a law firm, especially in the partnership ranks, is like getting married - not just because you spend more time at the firm than with your family - diversity recruiters bring to the table a level of expertise in the match making process that is only matched by the likes of the success stories of "e-Harmony". When law firms lack true advocates of diversity within their ranks or the firm‘s diversity advocates lack power to effectuate change, placement leaders like Ron who have over 25 years of expertise in successful diverse lawyer placement (his lawyer placements result in an ROI to the firm), are necessary to bridge the gap to ensure the success of diverse lawyers. At the end of the day, law firms need to acknowledge that they need help fixing the problem and that sponsorships of diversity "chicken dinners" is not the solution.

  • Ron Jordan

    Vivian, Julie, MP Queen and your new Editor, thank you and American Lawyer for finally having the courage to write what has been in plain site for far too long, every black attorney I know that works for a BigLaw firm knows this. Race, implicit and unconscious bias was more blatant in times past, in todays BigLaw firms it is the undercover reasoning that black attorneys don‘t hold positions in BigLaw. I have the pleasure and honor each day in advising black attorneys as they are making their career transitions to new opportunities into my client law firms. For the most part, the biggest problem is when a black associate or lateral partner is brought into a law firm, there is not someone to be their Partner within the interviewing process as well as when the firm hires the black attorney. Majority partners and associates have a proponent in their rise to the Partner ranks or with a Lateral majority partner, that person has an advocate to integrate them into the practice area and helps with cross marketing within the firm as well as on pitches.

    Part of the solution is acknowledging that race, implicit bias and unconscious bias are part of the law firm culture. For firms to make that admission would be monumental and the culture of the BigLaw firms would be a more inviting place. Also, in admitting that racial bias is prevalent will give firms an opportunity to find consultants that may be able to help the firms to be more inclusive, especially for black attorneys. Working for a law firm is a hard and arduous task, all the attorneys I have worked with over the last 25 years love what they do, practice law. In any organization there will be political hurdles to jump through, but without a majority Partner taking on the mantel as a mentor, proponent for a black attorney, the sameness of this article will continue long after I have left the diverse attorney legal recruiting community. It is my hope that with this issue and other publications picking up these articles, that this story will continue to have legs. As a good friend and a former US attorney once told me and I know it is true, you can employ every Black Lawyer in the US and it would not make any sizeable dent in denying any white attorney a job. The bottom line in the upward mobility of black and other diverse attorneys is that "white privilege" exists even in this very honorable profession, admitting that a problem exists is the first step in solving a problem, which is what lawyers are paid to do.

  • Allan Theoblad

    If you want to know the answer go read a senior thesis by Harvard Law Graduate named Michelle Robinson. What good does it do to ignore the real issue which is why there are so few black partners.

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