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October 30, 2007

Stanford Law Students Rank Law Firm Diversity: Will Clients Notice?

A bunch of law students at Stanford have started assigning letter grades to their prospective employers...

The students are handing out “diversity report cards” to the big law firms, ranking them by how many female, minority and gay lawyers they have.

“Many of the firms have atrocious, appalling records on diversity,” said Michele Landis Dauber, a law professor at Stanford and the adviser for the project, called Building a Better Legal Profession. The rankings are at www.betterlegalprofession.org.

In New York, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton got the top grade, an A-minus. At Cleary, the project says, 48.8 percent of the associates are women, 8.7 percent are black, 8.3 percent are Hispanic and 4.5 percent are openly gay.

Herrick, Feinstein, by contrast, got an F. Its numbers: 37.7 percent women, 4.9 percent black, 1.6 percent Hispanics, and no openly gay people.

... The numbers were provided to a central clearinghouse by the firms themselves. “Our process is simple,” the student group said in explaining its methodology. “Cut, paste and rank.”

Firms in the top fifth received A’s, in the second fifth B’s, and so on. Overall grades were arrived at by averaging grades for partners and associates in five categories: women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and gay people.

The diversity breakdowns have been available to students for at least 15 years, through the NALP guide, which carefully catalogs the number of associates and partners by gender and ethnicity.

I suspect that minorities and women contemplating offers have long scrutinized the NALP reports, especially to see whether there is any viable partnership track for them, as indicated by history.

The Stanford Law Students leading this project have simply offered one kind of aggregation of those detailed numbers, simplifying the analysis for students. This strikes me as a valuable service. Firms that lag seriously in hiring women and minorities are likely to be unattractive for many.

One interesting question is whether the Better Legal Profession grades will become popular among clients. My own anecdotally-derived view is that businesses are ahead of law firms in diversity (is there a law firm equivalent of McKinsey's Rajat Kumar Gupta, Stan O'Neal, or Meg Whitman?), and thus they may be concerned when one of their major vendors seems indifferent to it. They are perhaps less likely to have used the NALP resource previously. But they may become concerned that their law firm receives low marks for diversity.

Cleary, Gottlieb, my old firm, has long sought to improve the diversity of its lawyers, driven in part by enlightened leadership and in part by the fact that a large part of its clientele is foreign.

Anupam Chander

October 30, 2007 in Rankings | Permalink

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