After more than two decades of proactive steps to increase the presence of black lawyers at large firms, the number of African American partners and associates remains very low, and the percentages haven’t changed for five years. Studies have identified many different reasons for this lack of improvement, but they also make a compelling business case for law firms to embrace diversity in light of the changing demographics across the country, and at their corporate clients.

One study by Microsoft Corporation notes that while other professions have boosted the number of black professionals in their ranks, the legal profession has not fared as well. In fact, large law firms’ diversity records were found to be sub-par when compared to government or corporate legal departments.

Instances of overt bigotry are rare, but they do occur, says Peter L. Haviland, a black litigation partner who recently left Kaye Scholer for Ballard Spahr. "I'd like to see the day when a firm publicly repudiates a partner for racist comments or behavior," he says. "There's a lot of racially charged things that go on in law firms that are not responded to. Firm leaders have not taken action because they're afraid those rainmakers will leave. And the inability to act on or confront such behavior, which makes firms relatively inhospitable to African American lawyers, is a problem."

Related Area