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Diversity: The Profession Must Do Better

Dec 1997

Consider these troublesome facts:

?Women are three times less likely to make partner in large New York City law firms than men.

?In 1987, 41% of law school graduates were women; yet in 1996-97 only 22% of new partners in large firms were women.

?Only ten of New York’s 25 largest firms have one or more African-American partners.

?Only 5% of the 173 associates elected to partnership in 1996-97 at New York’s 25 largest firms were African-American.

?Only 2.4% of lawyers in this country’s 250 largest firms are black; yet over 4.5% of law school graduates 8, 9 and 10 years ago were black.

These startling statistics are unacceptable to a profession that has historically led the fight against discrimination. Report after report continues to document gender, race and sexual orientation discrimination in the courts and in the profession. As lawyers, and as a Bar Association, we must do better.

The Association’s Statement of Goals

In 1991 the Association’s Committee to Enhance Diversity in the Profession, chaired by former Association President Cyrus Vance, issued a Statement of Goals. A goal for legal employers was that, between 1992 and 1997, 10% of all lawyers hired should be minorities. The Statement went on to say that over time the number of minority partners and senior corporate counsel should correspond more closely to the percentage of minority lawyers hired. More than 183 New York City law firms and corporate legal department are signatories to these goals.

Significant Problems Remain in Retention and Promotion

The good news is that, five years after issuance of the Statement of Goals, the hiring goal set forth in the Statement appears to have been met. Available statistics suggest that last year approximately 17.5% of the associates hired by the 25 largest firms were minorities, and 14.3% of the associates in these firms are now minority, compared to 8.4% five years ago. Discrimination against the hiring of women also appears to be a relic of the past.

Unfortunately, the statistics make clear that we have not made nearly as much progress in the areas of retention and promotion. The number of minorities remaining in law firms after year four are disappointingly small, and the number of black partners remains minuscule. In addition, the Association’s Report on Glass Ceilings and Open Doors: Women’s Advancement in the Legal Profession, sponsored by the Committee on Women in the Profession, documents (together with the statistics cited above) the difficulty that women have had in progressing to partnership and management positions.

The Association’s Action Plan

As we reach the fifth anniversary of our Statement of Goals, it is incumbent on the profession to ask why we have made such little progress. It is essential that the Association take action. The Committee to Enhance Diversity in the Profession, now chaired by Ned B. Stiles, working with the other Association diversity committees, is charting our course for the future. The following concrete steps are already planned:

?A Progress Report on the Hiring of Minorities, prepared by the Task Force on Minorities (Vaughn C. Williams, Chair), is being completed to track minority hiring patterns.

?An Attorney Retention Tracking project, directed by the Committee on Recruitment and Retention (William H. Sloane, Chair), is being conducted, with the pro bono assistance of Arthur Andersen & Co., to follow employment changes of associates over the next four years.

?A Statement of Goals for the Retention and Promotion of Women has been developed by the Committee on Women in the Profession (Kathryn J. Rodgers, Chair).

?The documentation of the experiences of lesbian and gay men in law schools, law firms and with other legal employers is being carried out by the Committee on Lesbians and Gay Men in the Profession (Peter J.W. Sherwin, Chair).

?Focus groups of associates, including groups of minority and female associates, are being conducted by the Lawyers Quality of Life Committee (Margaret A. Berger, Chair) to learn which actions by law firms make life easier, and harder, for associates.

?The implementation of the Second Circuit Report on Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts is being monitored by the Committees on Minorities in the Courts (William F. Kuntz II, Chair), Women in the Courts (Patricia E. LaFreniere, Chair), Women in the Profession (Kathryn J. Rodgers), and Federal Courts (Edwin G. Schallert, Chair).

?Model policies designed to combat discrimination and to advance the promotion of women and minorities are being designed by each of our diversity committees.

The Leadership of the Bar

There are very few lawyers in this city, and even fewer (if any) legal employers, that intentionally discriminate against women and minorities. But being committed to diversity, equality and fairness is not enough. Rather, we all need help to learn how to create a profession in which more minorities and women will rise to the top. We need to understand what law firm attitudes must change, how part-time policies can be crafted, how meaningful mentoring programs can be constructed, and how a realistic longer partnership track can be created for less than full-time lawyers.

The Association’s diversity efforts are based on the assumption that information —statistical and anecdotal—will lead to a better understanding of how to create an employment atmosphere where minorities and women will feel comfortable and believe they have an equal chance for advancement with their majority and male peers. Such information should help us create a culture that is more conducive to improved retention and promotion of women and minorities.

As the achievement of the hiring goals indicates, individual and collective leadership—by the heads of law firms, law schools, government offices, corporate legal departments, and this Association—can help bring about substantial change. The Committee to Enhance Diversity in the Profession has been charged with determining how best this leadership role can be carried out so that, five years from now, the statistics cited at the beginning of this article will be a relic of the past. Please join us in this effort.

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