Story at a glance
- Large corporations like Microsoft and U.S. Bancorp will only hire law firms that meet specific diversity criteria.
- Nationally, only 2 percent of partners at legal firms are Black.
Influential corporate clients are reportedly pressuring the law firms that represent them to hire more Black attorneys to work on high-profile cases — or risk not being hired.
The Wall Street Journal reports that companies like U.S. Bancorp, Uber, Microsoft and Intel Corp. are requiring the law firms they hire to disclose how many diverse lawyers they employ and what kind of work those attorneys receive.
“What gets done is what gets rewarded,” said Shannon Klinger, chief legal officer of pharmaceutical company Novartis AG. The company will withhold 15 percent of legal fees from the law firm they hire if diversity baseline numbers are not met.
Several companies already incentivize their employed law firms to meet their diversity standards, with firms employed by Microsoft having the opportunity to earn back 3 percent of their fees as a bonus by reaching specific diversity targets.
Across the legal industry, roughly 2 percent of partners at U.S. law firms and less than 5 percent of staff attorneys are Black, per data from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).
Even when Black lawyers are hired, many say their workload does not contain enough high-profile work to advance them into a partnership track.
“You’ll see the same associate staffed on all the great cases and think, ‘Why am I not getting those same opportunities?’” Duvol Thompson, a partner at Holland & Knight LLP, told reporters. He recently helped compile a survey of 60 Black male lawyers that concluded: “The consistent challenge is attempting to rise through the ranks based on knowledge, experience and ability rather than being minimized, diminished or judged based on the color of our skin.”
Demand for more visible Black attorneys and other people of color in the legal field comes as a renewed Black Lives Matter movement this year has called out systemic racism in the country, demanding more accountability and equality from the government, corporations and workplaces.
Now, The Journal notes that more than 150 law firms and legal departments have promised to increase diversity among their staff by joining the Mansfield Rule, an initiative that requires employers to consider a baseline proportion of diverse candidates for each new position or promotion.