In a sign of the increasing power of in-house lawyers, over 170 US-based general counsels have written to US law firms demanding that they diversify their staff profile.
The missive tells law firms that they must “reflect the diversity of the legal community and the companies and the customers we serve” or they will lose business.
The letter complains that law firm leadership remains “largely male and largely white”.
Outside counsel spend
“We, as a group, will direct our substantial outside counsel spend to those law firms that manifest results with respect to diversity and inclusion, in addition to providing the highest degree of quality representation,” the letter continues.
The letter was drafted after an online photo of 12 new partners at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison caused comment because it appeared to show 11 white men and just one woman.
Some US lawyers believe that it can be difficult for minorities to enter social circles at the top of law firms, but that having a senior partner as a champion is the only way to advance.
The open letter from the in-house lawyers points out that many law firms have new partner classes that fail to reflect the demographic composition of those entering firms at lower levels.
“Partnership classes remain largely male and largely white,” the letter says. “We have no doubt that these lawyers worked hard to earn partnership and deserve the success they have obtained at your firms.”
The letter says, however, that other categories of lawyer are equally deserving, but remain excluded and unrewarded at top law firms.
“We are left to wonder if you and your partners value diversity enough to put into place programmes to develop, promote and retain talented and diverse attorneys.
“It is not enough to commit your firm to diversity during the recruiting process or to hire a diversity and inclusion officer and expect that person can effect change without the full commitment of each member of the firm,” the letter concludes.