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‘Frustrated’ with Lack of Diversity, NYC Bar Pushes for Transparency

Oct. 17, 2016, 6:29 PM

In the latest effort to improve the legal profession’s diversity problem, the New York City Bar Association has released a detailed report that shows sluggish progress among law firms in staffing women and diverse attorneys.

“We had been really frustrated with the fact that we are all talking about these issues and nothing was changing,” said Gabrielle Lyse Brown, director of diversity and inclusion at the association who was behind its renewed push for transparency into the staffing levels inside the opaque world of law firms.

Although the bar association produces an annual report on diversity at New York law firms, this year the group requested more specific data including that firms provide a full breakdown of attorneys by ethnicity, race and gender and a sign-off from each firm’s managing partner. This was to ensure that the leadership within each firm was privy to their diversity profile, and they were shown how their figures stack up compared to competitors.

In all, the survey pulled from 75 “signatory” law firms, meaning that they not only provided data requested by the bar association, but also pledged to a list of principles that expressed commitment to improving diversity. The majority of such firms were among the largest 200 law firms in the country, Brown said.

According to the report, women make up about 19.7 percent of participating firms’ partners, a slight increase over the prior year of 19.4 percent. This year marked the highest level of women partner representation since the survey launched in 2004.

Minority representation in firm leadership, meanwhile, also increased slightly as management committee member representation went from 6.4 percent in 2014 to 7.1 percent in 2015, the report said. Minority practice group heads, meanwhile, increased from 6.1 percent in 2014 to 7 percent in 2015.

The report also highlighted specific diversity and women’s initiatives already enacted at certain law firm as examples that other firms can replicate.

These examples included women’s groups at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Norton Rose and Paul Hastings, diversity and inclusion initiatives at Cleary Gottlieb, Latham & Watkins and Debevoise & Plimpton, among others.

Brown said firms that haven’t done as well on diversity could appoint a dedicated staff member to address the issue.

“The law firms need to invest in a staff member — at least one — dedicated to moving forward the diversity efforts of the firm,” said Brown. “It cannot be the burden of minority and women attorneys in the firm. They are already trying to build their practice, mentor and be the spokesperson for diversity efforts. You need someone in there being paid good money to keep the firm informed, action-oriented and be able to do the data intel and act on it.”

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