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July 4, 2011 7:00 PM

Diversity Rising at Gibson Dunn

Posted by Drew Combs

It may seem like a somewhat surprising development that Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's rise on this year's A-List to fourth place (from seventh place last year) was driven in part by a jump in the firm's diversity score (it went from 123 to 134). In the past the firm has been criticized for its poor diversity stats, but in recent years diversity at Gibson has been on a steady upswing.  

"It is very clear to the firm that in attracting and retaining the best talent and being responsive to clients’ expectations and being responsive to our own expectations it is important we continue to focus on diversity," says managing partner Ken Doran. 

"What I've seen over the past five to six years is an increasing recognition that our diversity is our strength," adds Marcellus McRae, a partner at the firm.

If that's the case, data compiled by The American Lawyer suggests that the firm has, for the most part, been getting stronger. Gibson Dunn ranked 67 of 194 firms on The American Lawyer's 2011 Diversity Scorecard--16.2 percent of its attorneys and 6.4 percent of its partners are categorized as a minority. In 2010 the firm came in at 78 of 200 firms--minority attorneys represented 13.5 percent of the total lawyer head count, and 7.2 percent of the partnership. That was an improvement over 2009 when the firm ranked ninetieth out of 200 firms.

Gibson's recent diversity statistics aren't industry benchmarks but they are are a vast improvement from the firm's past. In a 2005 article in The American Lawyer, Gibson's Failing Grade, it was famously noted the firm, which has its roots in California, had no Asian-American partners. (Currently the firm has eight Asian-American partners.) In 2005 the firm ranked 115th on the Diversity Scorecard.

Today, the 1,000-attorney firm--with gross revenue of $1.062 billion in 2010, and average profits per partner of $2.31 million--is crowing about its diversity achievements. Attorneys at the firm seem to be referencing this in an often-repeated mantra that the firm is "committed to doing well by doing good."

Firm leaders say behind the improving numbers are concerted efforts to demonstrate the the firm provides an environment where diverse attorneys can thrive. Doran specifically pointed to developments in recent years such as the firm's renewed focused on mentoring, a more structured approach to professional development that included hiring a head of professional development, the hiring of a new chief of diversity officer, revamped diversity committees with targeted tasks, and increased support for diverse organizations.

While these efforts are in-line with what many other firms are doing, for Gibson it appears that the goal is not to just catching up to the pack. "We are focused on becoming known as a leader in this area," Doran says.

Along those lines, the firm sponsored a diversity networking reception last Monday at its offices and invited a cross section of Southern California's legal and business community.

 At the reception, Hill Harper, star of the CBS television's CSI: NY and a law school graduate, spoke to the crowd, especially the associates and summer associates in attendance, about taking hold of their futures. But when Harper first took to the podium to address the 100-person group, he was preoccupied with thoughts of his own past as a stressed out summer associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Chadbourne & Parke..."and someplace else I can't remember."

"I felt my blood pressure rise just walking the halls," Harper jokingly said, in reference to Gibson's downtown Los Angeles offices where the event is held.

 

•RELATED REPORTS

The A-List 2011

Diversity Scorecard 2011



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