On the website of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, President and CEO Joseph K. West has this to say about the inevitability of change: “Even though the legal profession remains the least diverse of all white-collar professions, I remain optimistic that even our profession will come to realize the value of inclusiveness. It is, I believe, inevitable.”
Each year, as The Network Journal profiles another group of African-Americans at the top of the legal profession, it may seem that the inevitable has already happened. Yet, 18 years after the MCCA stepped out to advance the hiring, retention and promotion of minority attorneys in legal departments and the law firms that serve them, the inevitable is creeping along at a snail’s gallop. In its most current law firm data, the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) reports only 6.7 percent of partners are ethnically diverse. And at 2.16 percent, the incidence of minority women partners is even worse — 0.48 percent Hispanic women; 0.60 percent Black women; and 0.89 percent Asian women. In June this year, NALP reported that equity partners in multitier law firms continue to be disproportionately white men, with only 5.6 percent ethnic minorities in 2014. Among nonequity partners, only 8.9 percent were ethnic minorities.
In July 2014, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., General Mills Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched an Engage Excellence minority lawyer inclusion incentive program, pledging to hire diverse lawyers within majority law firms to be lead counsel on significant matters, and to require each firm to assign a diverse team to those matters. They stipulated that they wanted diverse lawyers with supervisory experience in such practice areas as intellectual property, class action litigation, health care, patent litigation, corporate transactional, corporate governance, employment law and environmental law. “Diversity helps us drive innovation and consumer engagement, and also helps us attract and retain the best talent. There is a growing body of evidence, and near consensus, that diverse teams outperform nondiverse teams. We’re confident the Engage Excellence program will further elevate opportunities for the most talented lawyers and help promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession,” said Roderick A. Palmore, then-executive vice president, general counsel and chief compliance risk management officer and secretary of General Mills.
No doubt, launching Engage Excellence is the kind of action that keeps Joe West’s hopes alive. In the pages that follow, we profile five African-American partners at leading U.S. law firms.
— Profiles by Sonja D. Gracy