Thursday, June 8, 2017
WSJ, A Rooney Rule for Law Firms? Project Aims to Promote More Women (behind pay wall)
It looks like Biglaw firms are finally moving from the rhetoric of diversity to that reality. Thirty firms, including DLA Piper, Paul Hastings, Jenner & Block, Morrison & Foerster, Blank Rome, and White & Case, have committed to abiding by a version of the “Rooney Rule” when promoting and hiring laterals. For those that have no more than a passing familiarity with the concussion-fest that is the NFL, the Rooney Rule — named after the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Art Rooney — requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when there is a head coach or general manager vacancy. The rule is seen as a progressive success — yes, eight minority head coachesis seen as a success — and now Biglaw firms are taking a cue from the NFL.***
The idea was proposed by Mark Helm, a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson, at Diversity Lab’s event, Women in Law Hackathon. Diversity Lab then worked with the firms to develop the rule, and as reported by Law.com, they are committed to making sure the law firm rule is successful:
“These law firms have signed on [to] help us form the idea, put it into fruition, see what works, see what doesn’t work,” said Caren Ulrich Stacy, CEO of the Diversity Lab, which is working with the firms to develop the Mansfield Rule. “We’re going to stick with the firms and we’re going to help them measure and track and then [see] where the needle has moved over the course of the year so that its second iteration next year could be even better.”
The Biglaw version of the rule, named the Mansfield Rule after Arabella Mansfield, the first woman admitted to practice law in the U.S. (a good fact to remember for a future Trivia Question of the Day), asks firms to consider two or more candidates who are women or attorneys of color when hiring for leadership and governance roles, promotions to equity partner, and hiring lateral attorneys. And, if the firms can demonstrate 30 percent of the pool for these positions are diverse, they’ll be “Mansfield Certified.” That spiffy designation will allow firms to participate in a client forum hosted by 45 in-house legal departments, including companies like Facebook, HP, Microsoft, and PayPal.
The participating firms seem committed to the Mansfield Rule, and are hopeful it will yield real results:
“It has been demonstrated again and again that diverse teams make better decisions. While we aspire to create those teams everywhere, including and especially in leadership, it is also well documented that unconscious bias clouds our best intentions,” said Fenwick & West managing partner Kathryn Fritz in a statement to The American Lawyer. “The Mansfield Rule helps us bring greater intention to our considerations and actions so that we can achieve our aspirational goal.”
There also is a sense that an industry-wide solution is what’s needed, as the Wall Street Journal reports:
Alan Hoffman, the managing partner and chairman of Blank Rome, said the firm is thrilled to participate in the pilot because “we’re not retaining women in the practice at the same rate as men.” Blank Rome began in 2012 trying to get more women in line to take over practice group leadership, and now half of the firm’s 16 practices are led by women.
Orrick Chairman and Chief Executive Mitch Zuklie said the rule looks to be a promising way for law firms and their clients to come together to hold the industry accountable and is emblematic of the fact that “systemic problems require systemic solution."
I have written about the need for systemic solutions for gender discrimination such as the use of gender quotas, and also the limitations of token measures like the Rooney Rule. See Tracy Thomas, Reconsidering the Remedy of Gender Quotas, Harvard J. Gender & Law (online) (Nov. 2016).