Earlier this month, the ABA Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity at Work published the ABA’s first report on Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession. After presumably thousands of dollars and hours, the report came to the shocking and obvious conclusion that … the great law is white and masculine. Imagine! Yes, known to everyone except the unsuspecting ABA, the report’s white attorneys make up 84 to 93 percent of the equity and non-equity partners. The attrition rate for ethnic minority groups was two to three times higher than for white lawyers and slightly higher for women than men. This is true even if the majority of law firms report that they have policies related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
What is absolutely ridiculous about the ABA report, including its repetition of the obvious, is that it turns out that the ABA lacks the moral authority to make statements about professional diversity. Just last week, the Biden administration announced that it would not restore the ABA’s role in screening judicial candidates based on its subjective criteria and past practice of finding women and minority candidates disproportionately unqualified.
Biglaw can lack diversity. But that doesn’t mean that other parts of the legal profession are lacking. Last September, my colleague Jeena Belil and I organized the first Lawyer + Mom + Owner Summit together, at which a diverse and all-female cast of female law firm owners gave one inspiring lecture after another about building their companies – from individual lawyers to women lawyers who run seven-digit law firms ranging in size from half a dozen to fifty lawyers and team members. Companies like this have the potential to completely overtake Biglaw.
Reports like the latest ABA project are window dressing, nothing more. We all know the problem is there and the reports are merely delaying any action to bring about change. In fact, the reports often act as a substitute for changes. an assurance that something will be done about the problem if it is not. Rather than lament the exclusivity of white male dominated law firms, we should encourage women and lawyers of color to own law firms instead. The ABA could put its money where diversity is at stake and fund an incubator to help women and minorities who want to start law firms, especially law firms that will compete with Biglaw. The ABA could encourage or require an in-house attorney to send work to women and minority companies and bypass Biglaw entirely. And most importantly, the ABA could publicly recognize the status of women and minority lawyers as partners and owners of their own law firms on the same level as partners at biglaw – instead of looking past us and treating us as invisible women.
And now, according to the words of our first woman of color and vice-president of the lawyer, let’s get to work!