The traditional law firm. Composed of partners: the firm owners who toiled in the associate vineyards for several years and who were ultimately rewarded with the brass ring. A partnership, a piece of the ownership of the firm. A piece of security that tied you to the firm and your partners. On the other side were the associates—those who worked hard toward partnership and the security it brought.
 

Continue Reading Non Equity Partnerships and the Changing Law Firm Culture

The annual Law360 Pulse Diversity Snapshot was recently released, and the numbers are once again depressing. The fact is that the practice of law remains the province of white people. (The Survey did not look at how women are faring, although a coming Law360 Survey will. But I would guess it would be accurate to say the profession still belongs primarily, if not exclusive, to old white guys). I had a chance recently to talk to Kerry Benn, Director of Series, Surveys & Data at Law360, about the Survey.

 

Benn told me Law 360 has been doing the Survey annually for seven years. For 2020, the Survey was completed by some 276 law firms of various sizes, so it’s pretty representative.

 

Some critical numbers from the most recent Survey:

 

  • In 2014 (the first year of the Survey), the percentage of people of color in surveyed firms was a paltry 14%. In 2020, it was a paltry 18%. Some improvement. But the law firm percentages are nothing like the general population, which is some 40% non-white, according to recent estimates.
  • Even worse, in 2014, the percentage of minority partners was 8%. In 2020 it was still under 11%.
  • At every level, the representation of minority attorneys increased by less than one percentage point from the year before.
  • Black attorneys make up 3.6% of all attorneys, while those identifying as Hispanic make up 4.5%. Asian attorneys are the best-represented minority group, making up 7.5% of all attorneys.
  • Attorneys of color represent 16% of all partner promotions. Black attorneys made up nearly 3% of those promotions, while Hispanic and Latino attorneys were more than 4% and Asian attorneys were 6%.

 

The numbers are depressing. The diversity of the profession is not representative of many of those it is supposed to serve. New estimates show that nearly four of 10 Americans identify with a race or ethnic group other than white. Recent data shows that the share of the white population declined almost nine percentage points, to 60.1%

 

The low percentage of diverse partners means that people of color still lack clout in law firms and are unable to be the needed change agents. And the percentage gets worse the further up the progression ladder you go. And by the way, Benn tells me the Survey did not distinguish between equity and non-equity (as previously discussed non equity partners like associates are employees) partners. I would guess the number of equity partners remains low, further reducing the power of diverse lawyers in law firms.

 

And this power vacuum may explain why there is so little real progress when so many law firms profess diversity values. And are doing things like appointing diversity officers. Looks good on paper. But programs designed by old white guys may look good but fail to take into account the real issues. Like the lack of diverse equity partners who would be role models to younger lawyers. As it is, Benn told me it’s just hard for younger, diverse lawyers to see a path to success.

 

And as I have discussed before, origination credit rules and the evaluation tools used in many firms favor the status quo. And the status quo rewards and perpetuates the existing power structure. Without access to origination credits, many diverse lawyers have difficulty advancing and obtaining leadership positions. Access to work and clients often goes to younger lawyers who look like the partner: white.

 

Interestingly, Benn also told me that smaller firms seem to be doing better at hitting various diversity benchmarks Law 360 had set up. While that seemed counterintuitive on first blush, perhaps lawyers in smaller firms forge closer relationships that help them listen more and talk less.

 

What does all this mean? The profession is not representative of the population as a whole. Far from it. And many lawyers don’t have the same background, culture, or even language that those who they represent. Not to mention the potential disconnect between white trial lawyers trying to persuade more and more diverse juries.

 

And when 40% of the population looks at law as a profession, they don’t see many practitioners that look like them. The result: less interest by people of color in the practice of law and less respect for lawyers and perhaps even the rule of law. That should be an alarm bell. Diversity: there are real, practical reasons to want to do better as a profession.

 

Oh, and by the way, it’s the right thing to do.

 

Uber Preferred Counsel Program uses data, metrics and tough questions to determine outside counsels’ commitment to diversity.

 

Let’s be blunt: The legal profession in general and law firms, in particular, have an abysmal record of diversity and inclusion. I have written about this several times, but despite the urgings of those more influential and well-spoken than me, improvements, well, just haven’t happened. The most recent ABA Study of diversity progress (or better put, lack thereof) glaringly demonstrates the failures.

 

The improvement in quality of work and decision making of diverse teams—teams composed of those other than old (and young) white men—have been well documented. Despite this, and even though both law firms and clients talk a good diversity and inclusion game, nothing ever seems to change. Why?

Continue Reading Want Diversity in Law Firms? Clients Have to Demand It

It’s early January, which for me means CES, the giant consumer electronics show.  (CES used to Stand for Consumer Electronics Show but now it’s just CES). CES calls itself the world’s largest and most important tech event, where the entire technology ecosystem gathers to conduct business, launch products, build brands, and network

 

Each year I go to CES and come back energized and optimistic. Each year I try to summarize what I learned and how those lessons might apply to legal.

Continue Reading Lessons For Legal: 2021 CES

Earlier this week, I saw an article by Dan Roe with Legal.com about how contingency fees were on the rise in business and commercial litigation since the beginning of the pandemic.

 

But lest some think this means BigLaw may be getting ready to stride into a lucrative new area that frees them from the tyranny of the billable hour and downward rate pressure, think again.

 

Continue Reading BigLaw and Contingency Fees: A Culture Clash

Last summer, I wrote two pieces about the lack of gender equality in the profession generally and big law in particular. These were based on an ABA Survey, which summarized several recent trends of the profession in such areas as diversity, women, legal education, technology, and more. It was not a pretty picture. (My first piece summarized the findings, the second responded to some criticisms of my interpretations of the Survey’s findings).

 

A recent Survey by Burford Capital conducted by Ari Kaplan Advisors, confirms the startling gap between men and women law firm compensation, especially at the partner level. This gap translates pretty directly into a lack of power of women within the law firm. And a lack of power translates into an inability to change the conditions that cause it.

 

Continue Reading Burford Survey Reveals Big Law Gender Gap and Why

And you still can hear me singing
To the people who don’t listen
To the things that I am saying
Praying someone’s gonna hear
And I guess I’ll die explaining how
The things that they complain about
Are things they could be changing
Hoping someone’s gonna care

Kris Kristofferson, To Beat the Devil

Is the legal world really changing, or are we all still just talking about change?

 

Last week, for the first time in a couple of years, I attended the ABA TechShow in Chicago. It’s one of my favorite legal tech shows. Since its geared more toward smaller firms and solo lawyers, there is less high-power selling like, say at LegalWeek. This creates space for more substantive discussions and learning from vendors. That was certainly the case this year. The show featured multiple substantive tracks, over 2000 attendees, countless exhibitors, a start-up competition, and even a silent disco.

Continue Reading The Legal Innovation Glass: Half Empty Or Half Full?

Yesterday, the AmLaw 100 Annual Financial Survey came out, and it offers an interesting picture of where the bigs are and perhaps where the industry is going.

I also listened to an ALM webinar yesterday in which there was a fascinating discussion about the findings among Nick Bruch, am ALM analyst, Dan Packel, an ALM reporter and Gina Passarella, Editor-in-Chief of The American Lawyer. One of the big topics of discussion by the panel: what happens if and when there is a recession.

Here are some takeaways from the data and the discussion and then some of my predictions. Continue Reading The AmLaw 100 Annual Financials: A Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Roy Storm of ALM broke the news early this week that Casey Flaherty, owner of the consulting firm Procertas and former GC of Kia along with legal pundit Jae Um will join the legal bemouth, Baker McKenzie. They will join recently added David Cambria, affectionately called the “Godfather of legal operations,” in an effort, according to the firm, to  “reengineer the delivery of legal services.”

When I first heard the news, I was reminded of (and tweeted out) the question posed to Winston Churchill: “Sir, are you ready to meet your maker?” Sir Winston’s response: “Yes but is he ready to meet the likes of me?” And that’s the big question here. Continue Reading Cambria, Flaherty and Um to Baker McKenzie: Is Baker Ready For the Likes of Them?