Let’s play a sort of flashcard game, shall we? Take a quick look at this press release from Paul Weiss announcing their new partners and consider the first thing you see:
Did your mind first focus on the venerable firm’s 2018 commitment to putting the white in white shoe? Or, putting aside the monochromatic palette, did you notice that there is only one woman, and she’s visually consigned to bottom billing? Perhaps you noticed nothing at all, which is also an acceptable answer because everyone in the legal industry is so accustomed to images like this that they appear innocuous.
But Paul Weiss has a serious diversity problem and it’s deeper than just not finding any diverse candidates for partnership.
The legal industry’s diversity woes remain rampant. While corporate America posts relatively significant strides toward diversifying its executive ranks on all fronts — a strategy that directly addresses the implicit and explicit biases that historically limited the talent pool by excluding candidates unnecessarily — the legal industry seems mired a few decades behind. When it comes to naming partners, women and minorities seem nowhere to be found.
It’s not that firms intentionally want their letterhead to feature more white dudes than a Jimmy Buffett concert. Very few law firms set out to cultivate a class bereft of diversity. Rather, they lack imagination and mindlessly hew to a model that grinds most candidates out of the process before it ever reaches this point. Diverse candidates are subtly shunted off into auxiliary roles — counselships or whatever sanitized terminology the firm uses. Implicit biases consistently drive down minority candidate reviews. Women are held back for deigning to have kids. And corporate America’s relatively more progressive hiring poaches quality diverse candidates to the in-house ranks. This isn’t a problem that gets solved the day the firm votes on new partners, it needs to be addressed on the day first-year associates start.
But worse than the firm’s failure to find and nurture diverse candidates for partnership, is the naked lack of awareness involved in putting that picture out into the world as a press release. When the resulting image looks like this, someone, somewhere along the line needs to show a modicum of awareness and say, “oof, maybe let’s not put pictures with this one.” The post evinces a complete failure to recognize what’s happening.
Speaking of a lack of imagination, the reason the only woman in the class is appended to the end of the image is that she comes last alphabetically. Was there any reason to list these attorneys alphabetically? Could making the firm not look like it’s mired in the 1950s be a worthy enough goal to justify toying with the layout a little? While writing this, another Biglaw firm sent along its partnership announcement and it isn’t alphabetical and a big reason why appears to be to keep women partners from falling to the bottom of the list.
That’s what’s really broken about the diversity of Biglaw. It’s not even that the firms have thoroughly hamstrung efforts to put diverse candidates in a position to succeed, it’s that no one can look at an image like this and immediately see the problem. Paul Weiss can’t put a two-paragraph letter into the ether without five edits. This image was labored over. The blind spot that allows this to get through the multiple checks Biglaw firms set up for every decision is the ultimate affront to the campaign for diversity.
Biglaw can’t solve the problem unless it sees it.
Let’s be clear that these partners don’t deserve to have their announcement be emblematic of the firm’s overarching failings. That they aren’t joined in this image by new partners that would demonstrate a successful diversity initiative isn’t their fault.
Though, next year, it will be on them. Hopefully, they can use this experience to help the firm do better.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news.
Published at Tue, 11 Dec 2018 17:16:04 +0000