As many law students gear up for early-interview season, now is a good time to revisit the importance of researching firms' diversity records. In a follow-up to this post, we will offer some helpful tips and tools for getting past the publicity photos and down to the facts.
First, a note on the continuing importance of tracking down a firm's diversity record. It is undeniably still a tough market for law students, and many interviewees may be asking themselves if they can really afford to think about issues such as diversity. The Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) has produced extensive research on progress that law firms have made with regards to diversity and inclusion; their data clearly indicates that most women and minorities who want to make a career in big law firms can't afford not to consider each potential employer's track record on diversity and inclusion. That is because a firm's diversity record offers important clues on the way in which that firm distributes opportunities for mentoring, training and development, client contact and advancement.
Countless reports and interviews indicate that mentorship is critical to advancing in a legal career. According to the MCCA's most recent report, 74 percent of whites reported having "a mentor who was an influential sponsor and can advance their career" while only 58 percent of minorities responded that way. The gender gap in mentorship is narrower with 68 percent of male associates 61 percent of female associates reporting that they had a mentor that could help advance their career. Business development opportunities correlated closely with mentorship; "only 58 percent of minorities reported being satisfied with the opportunities they had to participate in business development efforts with important firm clients, in comparison to 73 percent of whites." Not even age-old standards of prestige such as school rank outweigh racial distinctions at some firms. The MCAA reports that "minorities who attended Top 10 schools reported having less access to mentoring, coaching, and sponsorship than did all white lawyers without regard to what law school they attended." And, when it comes to training, 75 percent of whites felt that they had access to sufficient training for their career needs while only 59 percent of minorities reported the same; along gender lines 69 percent of males and 59 percent of women felt that adequate training was available to them.
Despite receiving less support, 40 percent of minority attorneys, 31 percent of female associates and 37 percent of female partners felt that they had to "perform at a higher level to gain the same credibility and career opportunities" as their peers. The disproportionate impact of recent layoffs on minority attorneys (See Some Law Firms Receive Failing Grade on Diversity Report Card) illustrates the outcome of these inequalities.
Finally, a parting word on diversity and inclusion. Pressure is high during interview season, and sentiments of "reverse discrimination" often reach their peak during this time. The MCCA reports that "a strong sentiment continues to exist among white men that racial/ethnic minorities who are hired into law firms are less qualified than other candidates." Don't be fooled. The MCCA found that despite the myth of meritocracy and the even more pernicious myth of "reverse discrimination" empirical data shows that "the standards for recruiting minorities was actually higher than.... for recruiting whites." No doubt this is partly because those in charge of hiring proved to be partial to "sentiment that even minorities who graduate from top law schools are less qualified because they entered those law schools through racial preference programs."
See BBLP's next post for ideas on successfully navigating early interview season.
Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School. BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.