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Does Jewish History at Law Firms Have Lessons for Others?

Bruce MacEwen asks Would You Rather Be Jewish or Female at a law firm?  MacEwen believes that the Jewish experience bodes well for women or other minorities at large firms, and as  someone who doesn't have the "either or option" (being both Jewish and female), I'd have to agree:  There have never been more options for female or minority lawyers than there are now.

MacEwen begins by exploring the history of Jewish lawyers and BigLaw, a phenomenon also discussed recently in this Law.com article, Can the Success of the Jewish Law Firm Be Duplicated?   MacEwen says that the success of Jewish lawyers was attributable to their specialization in areas like mergers and acquisitions that suddenly became hot fields:

"The practices Jewish firms specialized in, theorizes Wald, gave them a "protected" ecosystem in which to develop expertise and, when corporate America came calling for more sophisticated legal services in areas such as litigation, antitrust, and M&A, the Jewish firms were ready to respond while the white-shoe firms were caught temporarily flat-footed.  Wald sees the establishment firms' willingness to hire Jewish lawyers as driven by the competitive realities of the marketplace --which changed in the 1970's."

Just as competitive realities lead to the enormous success of Jewish firms -- and their eventual integration into the world of BigLaw, the same will happen for women and minorities.   For now, law firms may have the luxury of maintaining an all white, "good old boy," network.  Corporations -- whose economic success rises and falls on their ability to attract customers of all gender and race -- are starting to demand diversity from the law firms that serve them. And if BigLaw won't offer that diversity, corporations will start seeking out women-owned or minority-owned firms that can offer it.   

MacEwen believes that once firm recognize these economic realities, they'll do more to attract and retain women.   Here's where we part company.  Like Jewish lawyers, who had to strike out on their own to achieve equality in the profession, I believe that women and minority lawyers will have to do the same, setting up their own firms and growing them into powerhouses that compete with BigLaw.  When that happens, large firms will absorb or merge with these women- owned or minority-owned firms and real integration will pervade the profession.  As with any fight for equality, the major push has to come from those adversely affected.  BigLaw has its own agenda and we can't let it fight our battles for us.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 22, 2006 at 03:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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