As we posted here several months ago, corporate clients are pushing law firms to diversify. And as this news story shows, corporate clients are putting their business where their mouth is: at least one large corporation cut a law firm, Gibson Dunn, from bidding on work because of lack of diversity among its lawyers. And the push for diversity isn't limited to large national shops; as The Daily News in Memphis , Tenn., reports (12/28/06), 'Diversity' Becomes Word of the Day at Local Law Firms.
Law bloggers have diverse views on the push for diversity. Peter Lattman's post on the diversity story has generated pages of comments. Ted Frank at Overlawyered is upset that corporations are willing to hire less than the best in the name of diversity, as expressed in a post:
Stories like this put the lie to any claim that African-American participation in big law firms is hindered by racism; if anything, law firms are forced by this socially-accepted racism to compete against one another to recruit and retain the few African-American attorneys out there, because clients apparently value minority lawyers versus those who are merely the best lawyers, and shareholders tolerate this dissipation of value.
At Sui Generis, Nicole Black takes a different view:
I respectfully disagree with the contention that those currently at the top of law firms -- the white male partners -- are necessarily the best lawyers.
To agree with that premise, one must accept the idea that law firms are not shaped by institutional racism and sexism. One must accept the idea that people make partner simply based upon their skills as an attorney, rather than as a result of who they know and how much money they bring in as a result of their contacts. One must accept that idea that partners in law firms are not, at the very least, subconsciously influenced by their socialization in a culture that is subversively racist and sexist. One must accept the idea that preconceived notions about the role of women or minorities don't exist. One must accept that clients, judges, and other lawyers do not presume the incompetence of an attorney -- a presumption that can be overcome, but it's an uphill battle -- simply by virtue of their race or gender and that those very same clients, judges and lawyers presume the competence of white male attorneys until that competence is disproved.
Satisfying clients' needs is part of the practice of law. From what I've read lately, few corporations are satisfied with their outside counsel, not just with respect to diversity but to performance in general. If threatening to take business elsewhere is what it takes to make firms serve their clients, then what's the problem? Or do large firms now need special protection from market forces?
Posted by Carolyn Elefant on December 29, 2006 at 04:26 PM | Permalink
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