Diversity issue in big law

Amirrah Watson| Staff Writer

In December of last year, the multimillion-dollar law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Waharton & Garrison announced on its LinkedIn profile the addition of 12 employees to gain the rank of partner.

The announcement was accompanied by a photograph featuring the faces of 11 white men and a white woman. Per adverse reception, the picture of the new hires has now been removed from the website, and Chairman Brad Karp released an email calling for a company-wide town hall meeting to address matters of “diversity” and “associate professional satisfaction.” According to the website law.com, this firm employs approximately 1,000 lawyers and earned more than $1.3 billion in 2017.

Interestingly, the firm Paul, Weiss is also known to have a more diverse roster of lawyers than many of its peers. According to research conducted by data analysts at ALM Intelligence, the average female partner make-up across more than 200 competing firms is 18% in contrast to the 23% employed at Paul, Weiss.

The firm also employs the highest number of African American partners who have an ownership stake in the firm, according to the New York Times. However, this number is only six.

Women, minorities and minority women at Paul, Weiss are now speaking out against the disproportionate composition of higher-ranking associates and partners at the law firm. Despite supporting and representing civil liberties cases in international courts, minority employees at Paul, Weiss told the New York Times that the company does not foster an equitable environment for opportunity and the vast recognition of achievements.

Moreover, marginalized employees have reported demeaning language, an overly rigorous selection process for HBCU and minority graduates, and the plagiarism of professional work and ideas. Overall, a burdensome sense of isolation permeates the workspaces of both minority associates and partners at Paul, Weiss who cannot gain entry to the company’s upper echelons.

Through an extensive curriculum, summer internship opportunities and even the enforcement of a university dress code, students in the pre-law department at Hampton University receive an education that prepares them to successfully navigate the competitive world of law. But with the subtleties of race and gender still influencing professional and financial achievement in large law firms, students may consider the option of lending their abilities to smaller, minority-led firms.

Nycole White, a junior criminal justice major who is planning to apply for law school within the next year, said she “would not trade working in a more diverse, urban workplace for working in a larger, higher-paying firm.” White, who is from St. Louis, thinks that even though large corporate firms often represent clients who are victims of civil injustices and violations, they cannot effectively make social changes on their clients’ behalf because of the lack of actual minority presence on their legal teams.

Nevertheless, with more employees at firms like Paul, Weiss voicing their mistreatment and some even pursuing legal action against the companies, 180-degree changes in workplace attitudes could be occurring very soon. Changes would allow a substantially larger number of high-achieving, well-deserved minority attorneys to join the ranks of million-dollar profit earners.

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