Firm’s Collage Of novel Partners Highlights Law’s Enduring Diversity problem
Firm’s Collage Of New Partners Highlights Law’s Enduring Diversity Problem
Not so much this image.
Before we go much further, let’s be clear that while this is an article about Biglaw diversity, it’s much more about Biglaw’s self-awareness. Because diversity shortcomings plague Biglaw generally and efforts to encourage genuine change tend to lose their fizzle quickly.
Law firms promote partnership classes every year that fall short of the lofty diversity and inclusive rhetoric those same firms toss around in marketing materials. Usually this disconnect goes unnoticed because promotions are relegated to short blurbs in a press release.
But when firms feel fancy, they publish headshots to congratulate the new class. That’s when it’s really clear just how far firms are from fulfilling the promise of elevating more diverse leadership.
Which is what brings us to the announcement of DLA Piper’s recent promotions, which came with a nice collage of everyone. And that image… said its own thousand words:
Using grayscale certainly diminishes the impact, but that’s not a very diverse image. There are multiple new partners of Asian descent, but a review of the rest of the announcement suggests that all of these partners work overseas and mostly in DLA’s Asian offices.
In addition, a tipster noted:
– 0 black people. That is, none, zero, zilch.
– 0 Latino or Hispanic-origin people, outside of the promotions in Latin America and Portugal.
Not that these are the only vectors of diversity and there may be stories represented on this image that aren’t immediately obvious. But that’s the thing with images: they speak for themselves. If they don’t broadcast the whole story, that’s not the fault of the audience.
And the audience is seeing mostly white people getting promotions.
But here’s the thing – DLA Piper is actually better than a lot of Biglaw when it comes to diversity efforts! The firm is Mansfield 4.0 certified. That can’t be undersold, because there’s a whole lot of Biglaw that isn’t going out of its way to meet and exceed the Mansfield Rule. In a lot of ways, the takeaway from this incident shouldn’t be to vilify DLA Piper as much as to acknowledge that even firms doing a lot of work are still far behind where the profession needs to be.
Paul Weiss put out a similarly monochromatic image a few years ago and at the time I pointed out that it’s not that Paul Weiss is different than the rest of Biglaw – indeed, it’s also better than a lot of Biglaw – it’s that somewhere along the process an image got created and folks were so normalized to the idea that the class would look a certain way that it wasn’t questioned before it got posted.
That’s why these promotion press release stories are more about self-awareness than diversity per se. Because firms need to be able to see the problem when they look at these images before they can ever get a handle on how to approach solving it.
Whenever an image like this comes out, I’m always hesitant to point it out because I fear firms will just take it as a reason to junk the images and go back to strictly text announcements – driving the problem underground again. That’s not helpful for anybody.
Because it’s actually good that we get to see what’s happening. Firms just need to reorient themselves to understand these images as a continuing call to action.
Earlier: Paul Weiss Press Release Captures Everything Broken About Biglaw In One Image
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.