Diversity in Law: Expressed through Geography

Leopard Solutions

Ever since a watershed ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States effectively gutted affirmative action protections, the question of how to advance the cause of equal opportunity for underrepresented groups has been decentralized and left to the discretion of institutions and individuals often plagued by implicit biases. For that reason, Diversity must remain at the forefront of hard conversations being held at firms and Leopard Solutions will continue to provide data that shines a light on the unvarnished deficiencies and progress in the area through data.

Ethnic diversity at the top 200 law firms has been slow-moving for as long as we have been tracking it, however in an unsettling turn of events it fell by 1.3% between 2022 and 2023. Many firms continue to champion diversity as a core value, but the numbers show the rhetoric is not trickling down to hiring practices. Corporate America is not immune to these troubling developments either. A recent study titled “176 Years Later: Real Life Stories of Black Male Lawyers in Corporate America” charts the black male lawyer experience at F500 companies through allegations of racism. Two of the more jarring findings were: that 30% of the group’s members left the legal industry to escape hostile work environments and a whopping 74% felt more heavily scrutinized than their white peers through similar mistakes. Gender-biased behavior runs rampant and is pervasive in the courts, where women attorneys are far too often on the receiving end of demeaning slights.

Even removing social leanings from the equation, the strategic pursuit of a diverse workplace at law firms is a sound business decision right down to brass tacks. Indeed, firm diversity has proven to bring in more clients leading to economic growth, fostering innovation, and resulting in increased courtroom successes, ultimately boosting morale and employee retention. It has long been held that General Counsel favors diverse outside counsel teams, on account of a sense that it gives them a leg up with juries. However, they are not renowned for articulating this preference. The bottom line is the onus should not be on one party to affect change, but on all involved, to secure favorable outcomes that break free of the status quo.

When it comes to ethnic and gender diversity at firms, average data cannot be relied upon to tell the totality of the story. This inspired us to take a deep dive into geographic breakdowns of diversity numbers to see if any parts of the country fare better than others and to tease out what some of the macro factors influencing such a difference might be. We discovered over a third of the top 200 law firms by gross revenue (38%) have ethnic diversity of under 15%. Looking at where Am Law 200 firms are headquartered, the cities hosting the largest number with 10% or less ethnic diversity were Atlanta, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New Orleans- several markets where the state diversity index is high. A total of seventy-eight firms had between 20 and 38.8% ethnic diversity and of those firms, the highest concentration of headquarters was in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and DC.

This is the footprint of the Am Law 200 firm with the lowest diversity number in our database. As you can see, their offices are all in areas where the diversity of the state is rather high. It looks to be a choice. ​Since 2019, They hired most of their students out of Buffalo Law School, 23, but only 2 of them were diverse. Just for context, Buffalo Law School has roughly 30% of students who are racial or ethnically diverse.​They hired 42 lateral associates since 2019- 6 were diverse, 20 lateral partners just 1 was diverse, and 5 counsels were not ethnically diverse. ​

To lend support to the diversity brings prosperity argument let us look no further than a few key statistics shared by the top 50 firms in the top 200:

  • None of them have 10% or fewer ethnic diversity numbers.
  • Only one firm has less than 14.9%
  • The majority (39 firms) within the Top 50 have 20% and over diversity attorneys within associates’ partners and counsels at their firms.

Firms would be well served to embrace diverse hiring not just from a social equity standpoint but from a pragmatic business one as well. This is achieved by taking full advantage of local populations and scouring universities when mining for talent. In some instances, firms will need to import, but for many around the country, it is not a case of brain drain but simply a lack of creativity. Another solution would be to jettison referral hiring to reduce homogeneity in hiring which is often the byproduct of recruiting from the same social networks. Being strategically located helps with diversity but it is not a replacement for thinking outside of the box.

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Leopard Solutions

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