How client racial preferences hurt minority lawyers


When doctors treat a patient’s symptoms and not the underlying disease, it is called “symptomatic treatment”.

Large corporations, in an effort for racial diversity, have taken a symptomatic treatment approach by requiring the large law firms they hire to put a certain number or percentage of lawyers of various races on their cases.

This is symptomatic treatment as it does not address underlying issues such as why some racial minorities enroll in law schools at lower rates than whites (Asians are an exception. ), why some pursue careers in large law firms at lower rates than whites, and why some spend less time in large law firms than whites. These diversity requirements do nothing more than fix the racial makeup of a particular team of lawyers working on a specific issue for a limited period of time. They are not a cure for racial disparities.

They also probably violate civil rights laws, but that’s a question for another time.

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Symptomatic treatment is only a good option if the treatment is not worse than the symptoms. For some minority lawyers working in large law firms, this is the case.

A minority lawyer friend of mine who, concerned about her privacy and wants to remain anonymous, shared her story of how this happens. She works in a large law firm working on corporate transactions. Like all associates, she has certain preferences as to the type of topics she prefers to work on, as well as the partners and clients she prefers to work for. The ability that she has to choose is precious to her because it allows her to develop her career as she sees fit.

But recently, a large client, able to send hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to her firm in a single year, demanded that one of her cases be staffed with a number of minority lawyers. My friend was not interested in working there, but the company gave her no choice. Because she was filling the client’s quota, she was losing any ability she had to choose her work preferences.

The result is that she has less control over her career. Although she loved this client’s job, she lost control of her career when she lost the ability to choose. This loss of control can lead to less interest in the work she is doing and less investment in it and her position within the company. She may feel like a token to spend on winning the firm the most lucrative deals it can get rather than a lawyer the firm wants to grow and prosper.

The saddest irony is that a minority lawyer in this position is pressured to leave the firm, and therefore a policy designed to increase minority representation may encourage the opposite.

This is the story of a partner, but she is not the only one to have told me a similar one.

There may be anecdotes, but everyone is an individual that this symptomatic treatment should help. Are these quotas requested by clients intended to help minority shareholders?

It’s hard to see what they could be like. Currently, very few law firms can meet these client demands without forcing minority partners to work on their cases.

Clients argue that these measures will encourage law firms to hire more minority partners in the future. If this assumption were true, perhaps clients would justify the harm their demands do to current minority associates as a short-term compromise for the greater long-term good.

But this argument rests on the mistaken assumption that disparities in large law firms are the result of discriminatory hiring practices. There is no proof for this. Rather, from public statements to diversity hiring programs, outreach efforts at historically black colleges to in-company minority support groups and professional mentoring, these firms strive to recruit and retain lawyers. belonging to minorities.

The problem is, these efforts are not successful.

The data shows only minor progress over time, even though customers have been making diversity requests for almost twenty years.

In addition, there is no evidence that customer requests are responsible for these minor changes instead of other potential causes like sensitizing students in pre-law schools to minority students to encourage them to pursue legal careers. , which is chronologically closer to the roots of the problem.

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The root causes of racial disparities between lawyers in law firms, whatever they are, arise before law firms make hiring decisions. Black law students, for example, made up only 7.9% of law school enrollments in 2019, and Hispanic students, 12.7%, less than the percentage of either group of the total US population, which is assumed to be the percentage that customers are targeting with their racial quotas.

All this to say that these client requests are unlikely to have any long-term positive effect on law firm racial statistics, but they do have immediate and detrimental effects on minority lawyers.

There is nothing insightful in this observation. That these racial quotas were likely to harm minority lawyers should have been obvious to clients the moment they first thought of this idea.

Still, customers insisted on them anyway. The unfortunate conclusion is that they never had the best interests of these lawyers at heart. They pushed racial quotas to feel virtuous, and they made pawns of minority advocates to do so.

This article originally appeared in The National Interest

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