March 14, 2007

DIVERSITY EFFORTS AT LAW FIRMS COME UNDER FIRE

By Patricia A. Schaeffer, Vice President-Regulatory Affairs

Law firms have implemented diversity programs in the past few years to hire more minorities and women. These programs are coming under increasing attack by those who fear these initiatives may violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

Ross Todd discusses the latest round in this debate in his article in The American Lawyer published on law.com. Todd’s article discusses the recent forum entitled “Are Law Firms Breaking the Law?” sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, DC think tank.

Panelists’ Key Points

Panelists at the AEI forum were: Curt Levey, Committee for Justice; Michele Roberts, Akin Gump; Richard Sander, UCLA School of Law; and Shirley Wilcher, Wilcher Global, LLC.

Curt Levey: Levey said that law firms may violate Title VII if they give minorities special preferences in the hiring process. He argued that law firms who have put together legal teams of a particular racial composition could face discrimination suits. Levey presented his paper titled “The Legal Implications of Complying with Race- and Gender-based Client Preferences.”

Richard Sander: Sander supported Levey’s research findings, which build on his own research that suggests law firm diversity efforts are often counterproductive as minority lawyers with “radically different credentials” than their colleagues are recruited to elite firms.

Michele Roberts: Roberts criticized Sander’s findings that law firms hire minorities who have lower grades on average than white associates because the data used in his study compared “apples and oranges, bananas and bowling balls.”

Shirley Wilcher: Wilcher praised affirmative action efforts by law firms and companies to promote diversity among their outside counsel, and was “not convinced” that hiring and staffing decisions based solely on race are as prevalent as Levey indicated.

DCI will continue to monitor and report on these developments as they become available.

Summarized from the story “Are Law Firms’ Diversity Efforts Discriminatory?” by Ross Todd in The American Lawyer and published online by Law.com on March 14, 2007.

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