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October 5, 2009 3:56 PM

Student Edition Fall 2009: Can They Still See the Forest?

Posted by Ed Shanahan

Minority law students considering a big-firm career will be particularly interested in one feature from the current issue of The American Lawyer Student Edition. In "Can They Still See the Forest," writer Susan Hansen uses the latest survey of minority midlevel associates as a jumping-off point to examine how the recession is affecting law firm diversity efforts.

"Given the current economic climate," Hansen writes, "it's easy to see why long-range efforts to boost minority hiring and retention might fall further down the to-do list, as law firms attend to more urgent concerns. But memo to managing partners: Don't expect clients to back off the push for greater diversity. Recession or no recession, many top in-house lawyers continue to care deeply about the issue. Indeed, they worry that the recent downturn is hitting minority associates especially hard, threatening the limited advances that law firms have managed to make. All big-firm associates may be facing a far shakier future, the thinking goes, but the outlook for minority lawyers could be especially bleak if firms let diversity efforts lapse."

"The danger is that the progress we have made on diversity will erode," Roderick "Rick" Palmore, general counsel of General Mills tells Hansen. Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith concurs: "Even before the onset of the recession, we were seeing a situation where progress was disappointing. It's very important that we not slide backward."

And, Hansen continues, "Judging from our most recent Minority Experience Study, there's definite cause for concern. This year we set out to measure the impact of the recession on midlevel associates of various racial groups. While all associates reported a falloff in work compared to last year, along with layoffs and benefit cuts at their firms, minority midlevels - particularly African Americans - seem to be feeling the economic crisis's effects most acutely."

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