Top New York Law Firms Massive Fail on Diversity

A report from the New York City Bar shows some of the city’s largest law firms continue a severe lack in diversity. In addition to women and minorities being underrepresented at many of the most profitable firms, low hiring and promotion rates for women and minorities — as well as higher turnover rates when compared to that of white men — have a disproportionate impact on representation.

Minorities overall, as of January 2016, make up just 25.9 percent of the firms’ associates. When it comes to leadership roles, the numbers are dismal. Minorities, as of December 2015, represent 8.4 percent of partners and 7.0 percent of practice heads, and have 7.1 percent representation on management committees. Fifty-nine percent of the firms have no minorities on their management committees, and more than one in three firms have no minority practice group heads.

In contrast, for the DiversityInc Top 10 among the DiversityInc 2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity, Blacks, Latinos and Asians make up 20.8 percent of boards of directors, as well as represent 18.3 percent of senior management and 31.2 percent of total management. They also comprise 26.2 percent of the Top 10’s highest paid employees.

Despite education rates equal to those of men, women attorneys remain underrepresented, according to the report: “Women attorneys make up 35 percent of all attorneys reported in our signatory firms, despite representing almost half of graduating law school classes for nearly two decades and 47 percent of summer associates in 2015.” In contrast, among the Top 10, women make up 50.7 percent of the total workforce.

As of December 2015, women represent 20.3 percent of members of management committees at the firms. One in four of the firms have no women on their management committees. Only 19.7 percent of partners are women, and 18.7 percent of practice heads. Meanwhile, among the Top 10, women represent 28.6 percent of boards of directors, as well as 39.2 percent of senior management and 47.6 percent of total management. Women also make up 39.9 percent of the Top 10’s highest paid employees.

Poor hiring and promotion practices are also impacting the pipeline. For women, as of January 2016, the percentage of female new partner hires at the firms was 29.7 percent, and lateral new partner hires were 21.6 percent women. For the Top 10, almost half of management promotions from within were for women, and 45.2 percent of newly hired management employees from outside were women.

Women and minorities also continue leaving the firms at higher rates than white men, the report states:

“Among all attorneys, 18.4 percent of women and 20.8 percent of minorities left signatory firms in 2015, compared to 12.9 percent of white men. These rates decreased slightly from 2014, but attrition remains a persistent challenge. At the associate level — the future pipeline of talent to firm leadership — attrition rates for white men and women associates are almost at parity (20.8 percent and 20.4 percent) while attrition rates for minority men and women are higher (22.0 percent and 22.5 percent.)”

Any progress that was being made has begun to fall flat, according to the report: “While signatory firms are more diverse at every level than they were when the City Bar first began tracking diversity benchmarking data, the 2015 data indicates that overall representation of minority attorneys has stalled in recent years.”

Luke Visconti, founder and CEO of DiversityInc, said of the findings, “After years of ineffectual nibbling around the edges on diversity, I think this report makes it clear — there is no reason for anyone interested in seeing the best succeed to take a job at one of these law firms. The deck is stacked against you.”

John S. Kiernan, president of the association, called progress “incremental.” Seventy-five firms participated in the survey this year, up from 55 last year. According to the New York Times, the firms that participated are noteworthy and among the nation’s most profitable, “generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue from complex legal matters involving the country’s biggest corporations.”

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