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Demographic Issues Continue to Plague Biglaw

Demographic Issues Continue to Plague Biglaw

If you are a woman or minority attorney, chances are that you have experienced some form of discrimination (whether direct or indirect) in the legal workplace.  The legal industry has been traditionally dominated by white men, and though the industry is more diverse than ever, the legacy of discrimination is embedded in its structures, to some extent — whether in the exclusionary “frat-like” culture of some Biglaw firms, or in the unspoken expectations imposed on partner track attorneys who might otherwise be interested in starting families and sharing domestic responsibilities with their partner at home.


Trends Indicate That Substantial Barriers Remain

Demographic trends are somewhat worrying — statistics reveal substantial barriers for women and minority attorneys in Biglaw.


According to data from the National Association for Law Placement (and reported on by the New York Times), women and minorities continued to be severely underrepresented at the mid-to-high level in law firms.


Women made up roughly 21 percent of total law firm partners (while constituting roughly 45 percent of associates), and minorities made up just 7.5 percent of total law firm partners.  Further investigation of the data revealed further inequities between certain demographic groups.  African-American attorneys made up less than 2 percent of partners, while Asian-American attorneys did somewhat better.


Some Biglaw Firms Have Attempted to Combat Demographic Issues

The industry has reacted to concerns about diversity by implementing various programs to combat these demographic issues, but the success of such programs has been somewhat limited.


Implementations vary significantly depending on the firm, but as a general rule, these programs include:

    • Extensive mentorship programs
    • Community outreach
    • Social/career events for women and minority attorneys
    • Alternative to the partner track
    • Part-time options
    • Remote work options
    • Daycare provision
    • And more


The effect of such programs has been limited, in part, due to the failure of Biglaw firms to adopt a more progressive workplace environment.  For example, a remote work option may be implemented to give attorneys an alternative in the months or years after having a child, but if this option is discouraged by the firm, or is otherwise viewed as a “career killer” among firm attorneys, then the implementation has effectively failed.


Firms must not only implement progressive programs, but they must not discourage participation — the firm culture itself must support attorneys who engage with these unique programs.


Moving Forward as an Attorney-Candidate

Though outright discrimination has — for the most part — retreated into the shadows (in the Biglaw context), there are undoubtedly aspects of the Biglaw experience that severely disadvantage certain groups.  Biglaw firms that maintain stringent “up or out” career trajectories are effectively forcing attorneys to put off family and other domestic concerns, or be seriously penalized.  In our gendered domestic culture, the implementation of this sort of policy means women are uniquely disadvantaged in this regard.


Similarly, some Biglaw firms fail to actively implement programs that make minority attorneys feel more welcome in a firm environment that may carry the cultural legacy of decades of exclusion.  Mentorship programs for minority attorneys can help provide an outlet for concerns relating to identity and career, and may give those attorneys access to valuable insider information on how to effectively position themselves for career growth.


Not all women and minority attorney-candidates are equally affected by such concerns.  In determining how to move forward with your next move, you’ll want to consider how these demographic concerns might coincide with your career ambitions.  For example, if your next move is intended as a short, intense stint to gain experience in a particular legal practice area before transitioning to a more permanent in-house position, then the lack of part-time or alternative track programs will be irrelevant.


If you are unsure of how to proceed, it’s worth consulting with an experienced legal recruiter for guidance.


Speak to an Experienced Los Angeles Legal Recruiter for Further Guidance

If you’re interested in learning more about Biglaw opportunities in California, and about the advantages and disadvantages of certain positions — whether from the perspective of a woman or minority attorney, or from a more general career perspective — we encourage you to contact one of the experienced legal recruiters here at Garb Jaffe & Associates.


We have consistently secured placements in prestigious Biglaw firms and in-house departments throughout the state of California, and are committed to providing comprehensive advisory services.  We understand that some firms — despite having a positive overall reputation — may not necessarily be friendly to marginalized individuals with significant career ambitions.  As such, we utilize our extensive network of attorneys, candidates, and others to identify job placements that are suitable for each candidate and their particular preferences.


Call (310) 207-0727 to get in touch with one of the skilled Los Angeles legal recruiters here at Garb Jaffe & Associates.  We will assess your goals, preferences, and application, and will help guide you towards “best-fit” positions given the relevant factors.

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