A New Statement of Diversity Principles
Nowadays, when a student enters a law school class he or she will see a significant number of women, minorities and students of various backgrounds. (There was one female in my law school class.) This new diversity leads to the promise of a law school experience rich with input from the differing backgrounds and points of view that make up modern society. While law schools still have some work to do to ensure true diversity, the current environment is a far cry from the days when the handful of women or minorities in each law school had to prove they were worthy of attending.
Once that same law school student graduates and becomes a member of an entering class at a major law firm, he or she will most likely be fortunate to see a diversity of race, gender and ethnicity among the associates. Law firms should be congratulated for their recent efforts of working to ensure that their entering classes are increasingly diverse. Yet when the new graduate looks up toward the firms’ partners he or she is bound to be somewhat disappointed as the partner track seems to lose many women and minorities along the way. This can dim the enthusiasm of young female and minority lawyers who could use mentors familiar with their experiences to show them the way. Why should this be of concern to every lawyer regardless of their own gender and ethnicity? Because the litigants who enter our nation’s courts and the lawyers who practice in them deserve the assurance that justice exists for
everyone, and a legal profession that is reflective of modern society is a key component of that assurance.
For these reasons, the Association has worked hard to help achieve diversity in the legal profession. In 1991, for example, the Association adopted its first Statement of Goals for increasing minority representation. At that time, each of the signatories agreed to an annual
hiring goal of at least 10 percent minority lawyers. A few years later the Association called upon the signatories to increase the rate at which women and minorities are retained, promoted and represented in leadership positions in law firms and law departments.
Since adoption of these earlier Statements, demonstrable progress has been made in promoting workplace diversity, particularly in the area of recruitment. By November 2003, more than 42% of associates at New York City law firms were women and 18% were minorities. But at the partnership level those numbers drop significantly, to 14% for women and 4% for minorities.
The Association has adopted a new Statement of Diversity Principles, drafted by the Committee to Enhance Diversity in the Profession (chair, Donald G. Kempf, Jr.). As with the prior Statements, the 2003 Statement addresses the imbalance of minority and women lawyers at law firms and law departments in the New York City area. Unlike prior statements, which focused on just one aspect of diversity, this Statement defines diversity as an inclusive concept, encompassing race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, nationality, age, disability and marital and parental status.
The 2003 Statement succeeds and builds upon the prior Statements by incorporating their fundamental objectives, while focusing emphasis on retention and promotion — and the measurement of both. This 2003 Statement calls upon law firms to hire staff members that reflect the diversity of graduating law classes, and to strive to maintain that diversity as the lawyers rise in seniority. The 2003 Statement also sets specific time targets for achieving these goals.
For the first time, the Association’s Statement includes specific provisions for law departments. For example, “In selecting outside counsel, law departments will consider a firm’s commitment and progress to diversity, including its success in meeting the goals set forth in the 2003 Statement.” By letting law firms know that their progress will be a factor considered in the corporation’s selection and retention process, corporations are in a powerful position to promote change.
The Statement calls for the creation of an Office for Diversity at the Association to help support the signatories’ efforts to promote diversity. The legal profession is seeking strong models. It is important for all of the Signatories to share information about their successes – as well as their failures – and to be supported in the programs they implement.
The Association’s Office for Diversity will report aggregate diversity statistics for all signatories in an Annual Diversity Statement, which will be distributed to each signatory and published in the Record. Demographic statistics for all classes and levels of lawyers will be shared among peer firms and law departments.
We would like to thank the participants for supporting this important initiative(see page 16 for the list of initial signatories) and look forward to working with them. We also welcome any additional firms or corporations who are interested in becoming to join us. A complete copy of the Statement can be found on our website at www.abcny.org
Achieving diversity in our profession takes more than just agreeing that something needs to be done. Concrete steps like those in the Statement need to be taken to show that the legal profession rewards and supports excellence in an inclusive profession.