Friday, July 27, 2012

Encouraging Data on Law Firm Diversity

Here is some welcomed good news for the legal industry--we now have data showing diverse lawyers, within certain large and important legal markets, ascending to law firm partnership in significant numbers.  Let me be clear.  I am reporting progress here, not perfection.  But the progress provides key insights on how to further reduce the partnership diversity gap.Nalplogo

The research, which I just published in the NALP Bulletin (see "Diversity by the Numbers," July 2012), is based on the 2005-06 edition of the NALP Directory of Legal Employers. The NALP Directory is a city-by-city guide for several hundred law firms that  participate in the on-campus interview (OCI) process.  This information includes a breakdown of lawyers by firm, branch office, title, and race/gender/GLBT status.  (See full article for overview data.)

The aggregate-level statistics are not every encouraging--less than 5% of partners at these corporate firms are minority.  These are the type of bleak statistics that frame the diversity discussion.  Yet, when the data are disaggregated, we see racial subgroup making substantial partnership inroads in specific geographic markets.  For African-Americans, it is Atlanta and Washington, DC; for Asians, it is L.A., San Francisco, and Pacific Northwest/Rocky Mountain region; for Hispanics, it is Houston, Dallas, Miami and L.A.  Further, these partnerships disproportionately in AmLaw 200 firms.

The map and table below expresses these geographic variations using a location quotient methodology.


(Note: CSA means "Consolidated Statistical Area", a geographic area defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.  Among other things, CSAs are very large metropolitan area labor markets.)

In the map above, the emphasis on large metropolitan areas is deliberate.  Among the 600+ law firm in the 2005-06 Directory, 64.2% of their attorneys worked in the top 10 metropolitan markets; these same markets also accounted for 74.8% of hiring at the NALP firms.

A Location Quotient (LQ) is a tool for identifying relative surpluses or shortages of an economic activity within specific locations.  If, for example, the percentage of female partners in New York City is the same as the entire US market, the location quotient for female partners would be 1.00.  In fact, the LQ for female partners in New York City is .87.  This means that are 13% fewer female parters in New York City relative to the total base of New York City partners.  Likewise, the LQ for African American partners in Atlanta is 2.67.  This means that there are 167% more African American partners in Atlanta relative to the total Atlanta partnership base. Cells in Yellow are underrepresented by more than 10%; cells in blue are overrepresented by more than 10%.

The implication of this analysis is that significant diversity tends to exist in pockets that follow distinctive demographic patterns.  These significant pockets rebut the pessimistic view, held by some, that minority partners lack the skills and ability to be successful in large corporate law firms.  Quite the opposite is true -- minority lawyers' willingness to enter a market and persist at a firm is likely influenced by number of people from the same minority group who have ascended to the partner level.  If you are a African American lawyer, the wind is at your back in DC or Altanta, but in many branch offices in Dallas, Phoenix or Boston you will be breaking barriers.

This brings up the issue of pipeline, which is a precursor to any hoped for progress on partner diversity. 

To look at pipeline-to-partner issues, I created separate regression models to predict the % minority associates within a law office (not the firm as whole).  I ran the model separate for African American, Asians, Hispanics, GLBT and females. Each factor below makes an independent contribution to a larger pipeline of diverse associates.

  • Geography matters.  Diverse associates are disproportionally going to the same market where their same subgroup has been successful becoming partner.  African Americans to Atlanta and DC; Asians to the west coast; Hispanics to the major markets in the Southeast and Southwest.
  • Large Firms.  Large firms are more successful recruiting diverse associates. This could be salary, prestige, recruitng resources.
  • Large Offices.  Bigger branch offices are more successful.  This could be recruiting resources or a more appealing variety of practice areas.
  • % of Diverse Partners.  This is the critical factor -- for every category, % of partners is associates with higher % of associates.  This is independent of size and geography!  Further, there is zero crossover effect. 

Quoting from the full article, "The takeaway from the above analysis is both simple and frustrating.  We would have more African American (or Hispanic or Asian or Female or GLBT) associates if only we had more African-American (or Hispanic or Asian or Female or GLBT) partners.  But getting more diverse partners will be slow going until we become better at retaining, rather than just recruiting, diverse associates.  The first generation of diverse lawyers will, by definition, not have the benefit of diverse mentors.  And in many firms, or at least branch offices, the first generation has not yet arrived."

I am really grateful to NALP for giving me access to this unique dataset.  It caused me to think much more deeply on how lawyer development can be used to create greater diversity in the huge number of branch offices where there is no critical mass of diverse partners.  It short, it is all about creating a competency model and evaluation system--i.e., a roadmap--that makes the path to partnership more explicit.  Why am I bullish on our ability to make progress on partnership diversity?  Because these systems simultaneously advance profitability and diversity.  The article recounts one such example.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

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