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Biglaw Recruits Black Lawyers, but Why Don't They Stay?

Are the upper ranks at large law firms still the exclusive province of white males? That's been the theme of past articles in the New York Times -- first Timothy O'Brien's article, Why Do So Few Women Reach the Top of Big Law Firms (3/19/06) (and Blog Watch's past coverage here), and now, with Adam Liptak's piece, Lawyers Debate Why Blacks Lag at Major Firms, (NYT, 11/29/06).

Liptak's article focuses on a study by UCLA Law professor Richard Sandler (which we discussed previously here) who purports to explain why minority associates don't succeed at firms. According to Sandler, large firms are desperate to hire minorities to meet diversity requirements. But to meet this need, firms lower their standards and hire minority lawyers with, on average, much lower grades than their white counterparts. Consequently, minority lawyers at large firms struggle more than whites and eventually leave. 

Sandler has his critics, however. Stephen Hanlon, a partner with Holland & Knight, pointed out that minority lawyers (as well as women lawyers) leave for postive reasons:

Female and minority lawyers, he said, are often hired away from law firms by corporate law departments, and that will have an impact over time. “We have trained a very bright generation of women and minority lawyers who have gone to our corporate clients and who now decide whether to hire us,” Mr. Hanlon said.

And professor James Coleman of Duke Law School criticizes Sandler for assuming that grades determine success at law firms:

[Coleman] said Professor Sander was overemphasizing grades at the expense of other qualities like writing skills, temperament and the ability to analyze complex problems.“I don’t think you can do what he is trying to do, which is to use purely objective data to explain what is happening in law firms,” said Professor Coleman, who now teaches law at Duke and is a co-author of a response to Professor Sander called “Is It Really All About the Grades?”

I agree with Coleman. If Sandler could demonstrate that lawyers who succeed at large firms are those who achieved top grades in law school, maybe his study would carry some weight. But unless Sandler can demonstrate a correlation between a law student's grades and his or her ultimate success at a law firm, his study doesn't do much more than find a way to rationalize a situation which isn't defensible.

For more, see the interesting comments on this same story over at Peter Lattman's WSJ Law Blog.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 29, 2006 at 01:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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