June 6, 2011 12:15 PM
Diversity Scorecard 2011: Back on Track?
Posted by Claire Zillman
It's not much, but it's enough to make diversity advocates in the legal profession let out a collective "phew!" According to our latest Diversity Scorecard, in 2010 big firms increased their percentage of minority attorneys by 0.2 percent, to 13.9 percent. This small jump is noteworthy because it halts the dip seen last year, when law firm diversity dropped for the first time in the decade that we've collected these numbers [See One Step Back, March 2010].
"My first thought is relief," says Fred Alvarez, an employment law partner at the top firm in the Scorecard, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. He is also the chair of the American Bar Association's commission on racial and ethnic diversity. "It was significant to me that what had been a long, steady progress was reversing in 2009. I was hoping that [decrease] would just be a blip," he says.
The fall in diversity seen in last year's Scorecard came after large law firms shed 6 percent of their lawyers in the depths of the recession, including 9 percent of their minority lawyers. This year, even though overall attorney head count continued to drop--slightly--the number of minority lawyers rose. Cumulatively, the firms that responded to our survey this year saw their collective U.S. head count fall by 359; yet they increased their minority head count in U.S. offices by 136.
"The addition of those new minority lawyers is an extremely positive indicator of the effort by The Am Law 200 to recognize the importance of diversity in building their organizations," says Hunton & Williams's Robert Grey, Jr., who serves as executive director of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, an organization formed in 2009 to advance diversity in the legal profession. "I think the drop in diversity was just a one-year phenomenon."
We hope so. Still, it's difficult to say conclusively that 2009's drop in diversity is a onetime anomaly. The increase in 2010 stops the prior year's decline, but it is relatively small. Another year's worth of data will be needed to establish a trend.
As always, we compiled the Diversity Scorecard by sending our survey to firms in The Am Law 200 and The NLJ 250. Some 194 firms responded. This year's survey has a small shift in methodology. In years past, we asked firms for minority head counts in U.S. offices as of September 30, but this year we pushed that date back to December 31, 2010, to include entering classes of first-year associates. In order to have two years of comparable data, we also asked firms to give us head counts for December 31, 2009. Using those numbers, we recalculated the percentage of minority lawyers for 2009: 13.7 percent. That number is higher than the 13.4 percent we published last year, but still shows a drop in diversity from 2008.
•CLICK HERE for The Scorecard, our annual ranking of large U.S. law firms based on percentage of minority attorneys and percentage of minority partners.
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