Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Diversity Initiative

Many firms have implemented supposed "Diversity Initiatives" in recent years as a response to the underepresentation of minorities in the practice of law. How honest are these initiatives? How many firms honestly care about increasing diversity in the workplace? Lately, many firms have been taking supposed pro-active steps to foster an environment that favors diversity. But do the words "equal opportunity employer" on a firm's website really mean that they intend to hire visible minorities? Does hiring a Diversity Director exonerate a firm from it's duty to create a true and reflective environment where diversity can thrive?

In 2003, the Equal Opportunity Commission issued a report on the representation of minorities and women as professionals in law firms. The report found that the representation of women in the legal workforce has more than doubled since 1975, from 14.4% to 40.3% in 2002. Yet, although the representation of women in the legal workforce is relatively proportionate to the number of women receiving JDs, the representation of racial minorities has yet to follow such example. For example, the representation of African Americans and Hispanics in the professional legal workforce is still proportionate to approximately half of the number who earn JDs.

Statistics aside, I happen to know a few partners at prominent law firms who are from visible minority groups. Of course, I do benefit from living in San Francisco, where diversity is the norm. My one favorite example of diversity in action is the junior partner at a prominent litigation firm who happens to be a Muslim woman wearing the head scarf. Conversely, I also know people who left large law firms, claiming that they felt that their ethnicity made their chances of growth much harder. I remember asking an Asian attorney from another well respected litigation firm about the diversity at his firm. He replied by telling me that his coworkers would often confuse him with another Asian attorney who was a whole foot shorter than him!

As the economy continues to globalize, law firms across America will need to reflect this globalization by retaining attorneys from various ethnic groups. And if law firms are unprepared to do this, we will probably soon see many smaller practices and solo attorneys popping up across the nation, reflecting the diversity of law graduates.

Perhaps, then, it will be the small firms and solos who initiate the change.

Related Links

1 comment:

may moon chi said...

Dear I.K.,

I have found your blog through a Google search on estate planning and solo practitioners. I thoroughly enjoyed the blog posts you wrote on being a solo practitioner - I only wish there were more of them!

As a 6th year tax attorney, I am ready to explore opening a solo practice in estate planning and small tax controversies. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to converse with you about your experiences starting up a solo practice.

If you are available for an informational interview or email correspondence, please contact me at lumina_26@yahoo.com. I am writing you anonymously since at this point, my plans are still in the development phase.