Don’t Law Firms Even Care About Diversity?

Even a blind squirrel finds an occasional nut, and so this post at the Social Justice Law Blog raised a surprisingly interesting point.

Whenever I apply for a job at a major company, their job application website states that the company is an equal opportunity employer. And for those who want to learn more, they provide a link to their equal opportunity policy statement. Most of these policy statements sound the same and at times use very technical terms. This leads me to believe that these policy statements are there for legal reasons. I also find it amusing when they ask for your ethnic background for “statistical purposes.” I’m sure that’s the reason.

Alright, granted that stuff somebody named Shannon Achimalbe finds amusing isn’t interesting to anyone but her, but bear with me.

Over the years, there have been calls by thought leaders to increase diversity in the workforce. While businesses tried and succeeded on various levels to improve the numbers of minorities on their payroll, the legal sector has been slow and reluctant to do so. As noted by Renwei Chung, Above the Law’s diversity columnist, law firms are perceived to have the lowest commitment to diversity when it comes to hiring and retention.

Heh. “Thought leaders.”  Sorry, I digress.

I think law firms genuinely like diversity, but they will not go out of their way to recruit minorities who do not fit the “top school, top grades” mold. Law firms say they believe in diversity, but they rarely follow through on trying to increase minority hiring. Of course, they won’t mention this publicly unless they are ready to face the wrath of Elie Mystal.

Just because Elie is black is no reason to assume he’s a blithering idiot, but then again, he is male and straight, so he might be. Anyway, we’re almost there, as Achimalbe has that most dreaded of combinations, verbosity and narcissism (because it’s all about what she feelz, because feelz matter at the Social Justice Law Blog.)

The reason why law firms don’t care too much about diversity is that most of their clients don’t care either. We’re not selling frozen pizza or dog walking services. Legal fights are serious business with money, family, livelihoods, honor, and even lives on the line.

Bingo. I can’t explain how that happened, but happen it did. And coming on the heels of the ABA’s divergence away from giving a damn about banal stuff like clients and law, and instead obsessing over female lawyers never hearing the word “girls*” so that they’re forced to curl up in a corner and cry, this is a remarkable assertion.

Lawyers represent clients. Despite all the cries to the contrary, lawyers do not represent social justice.  Remember when past-ABA president Paulette Brown said, the “ABA would be ‘social engineers for justice”?  She was wrong. Misguided beyond comprehension. It may have warmed your feelz to the core to hear it, but that’s just because you didn’t get it any better than she did.

Contrary to the monumental arrogance of the types who frequent conferences like the ABA’s, lawyers are not special. We’re not serious and important leaders, to whom society looks for guidance. The pompous fools who promote that tripe need to get out more. People aren’t all that fond of lawyers. Often with good reason. Sometimes for poor reasons. Even occasionally because they don’t get what we do.

But if people don’t get what we do, it’s largely because lawyers seem to have lost the concept of what we do. All you little butthurt social justice babies are so self-absorbed that you forgot, or maybe nobody ever told you, that lawyers exist for one purpose, and one purpose only: to serve clients.

Putting aside financial considerations, because nobody wants to piss away hard-earned money on lawyers if they can help it, the client wants his lawyer to be good, to be zealous, to be ethical, to be honest, but mostly to win.

It’s okay that I’ve been sentenced to death. As long as my lawyer was intersectional, I’m willing to sacrifice my life to diversity because it’s the right thing to do.

–Said no client ever.

While Achimalbe’s focus is on law firms, because some people view the world through the aspirational eyes of an employee, her observation that clients don’t really care about diversity is absolutely correct. Nor should they. Clients don’t exist to make lawyers happy, to give us a job and an income, work/life balance, self-esteem, or to assure that every marginalized person graduating law school has a place to go during the day.

It’s not that there aren’t occupations that exist for reasons other than to serve others, but not the law. The law is a profession, a calling that requires its practitioners to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.  There is no caveat that excepts this duty when the lawyer is female, black, gay or Aleut.

If law firms refuse to hire competent lawyers because of their race, gender or other immutable characteristic (and this was the case not too long ago, as firms considered whether new hires were “their kind of people,” so that they could be assured they would know which fork to use at dinner with a client), they would run afoul of discrimination laws. As well they should.

But competence still reigns supreme in the law, as it should. Because it’s not about you, deeply passionate young lawyer. It’s about the clients. And if it ever stops being about the client, then there is no reason for lawyers to exist, so better snarf up that cool job as assistant manager at Dairy Queen, where diversity is at the top of the list.

*It’s a tradition.


31 thoughts on “Don’t Law Firms Even Care About Diversity?

  1. Marc Whipple

    I’ve never liked the phrase, “Failure is not an option.” Failure is always an option, or at least a possibility. A mature adult accepts this.

    But in some jobs, minimizing the possibility of failure is not an option. Lawyer. Doctor. Engineer. The Military. All that is standing between you and failure/jail/death/worse is the power of another person’s mind. Nothing else is more important than whether they are up to the challenge.

  2. Mike

    I gotta say this article is spot on. It’s all about the client.

    Hell, if I’m in a tough spot, I want the guy who got O.J. off. Skin color or gender be damned.

    1. SHG Post author

      You gotta? Well. Okay then.

      Not making fun of you. I’m just fascinated by the way people express themselves.

      1. Mike

        I may be in Connecticut at the moment, but I’m a southern boy and that’s just the way we talk in casual conversation.

        1. SHG Post author

          It reminds me of people who preface their statement with, “I’m not gonna lie,” as if everything else they say is a lie. Just curious quirks of speech. When I edit the posts at FL, writers get pissed with me for subbing out their dialects for standard English. They tell me, “you make me sound like you,” which obviously annoys them.

  3. losingtrader

    Why? Why must you interfere with current employees of Dairy Queen, most of whom could make a better Blizzard than a law school grad any day.
    Just stop.
    Send them to Morton’s.

    This is in no way an admission I would truck with the GREAT UNWASHED at Dairy Queen… unless they have a drive through.

    It’s 10:30 am, Bellagio or Wynn buffet?

    1. SHG Post author

      Wynn. You don’t want to overstay your Bellagio welcome. And where’s my Mercedes for my hot stock tip, you ingrate?

  4. Ash

    FWIW, and hopefully narrowed to just this “it’s all about winning for the clients” to paraphrase, is why I don’t understand complaints (made by lawyers I’ve read) that Hogan (or in any other case) went venue shopping.

    Ignoring everything else about Hogan, and honestly not trying to derail this thread, can you explain to this layman why what Hogan’s lawyers did was wrong, and what they should have done? (At what point should they have told Hogan, you lost here, you lost there, we are taking it no further.)

    Honest, sincere apologies if this is a thread derail.

    1. SHG Post author

      It is a bit off-topic, but you’ve made one serious misunderstanding and raised one interesting question. First, it’s not “all about winning.” There’s a subtle, but critical, difference. We’re constrained by law and ethics, which means we do everything we can for the client within the bounds of the law. This is different than win at any price, which means we ought to lie, cheat and steal. It’s a very important distinction.

      As for Hogan, nobody is blaming his lawyers for what they did. They did their job. I have no clue where you got the impression that Hogan’s lawyers did anything wrong. The outcome was terrible for society, but good for Hogan. That’s who they represented, and that’s the only person they should be concerned about.

      So what should Hogan’s lawyers have done? Exactly what they did. Take advantage of forum selection, get a friendly and compliant local judge and jury after getting their butts kicked in federal court, and win for their client.

      1. Ash

        Thanks for the reply.

        > As for Hogan, nobody is blaming his lawyers for what they did. They did their job. I have no clue where you got the impression that Hogan’s lawyers did anything wrong.

        I saw and probably misinterpreted another well known Internet 1A lawyer responding in what I thought was a positive manner to a relatively well known 1A tech journalist who definitely decried the forum shopping to Tampa after being rebuffed elsewhere as a good reason for why the public should disregard the outcome. Putting words into the journalists mouth it seems very fair to say he felt the forum shopping was bogus and it seemed the lawyer had agreed with that.

        And of course when I wrote it’s all about winning, I certainly meant within ethical boundaries and didn’t mean to imply anything else. It’s those ethical boundaries that I felt Hogan’s lawyers were within and wondered why anyone would feel otherwise.


        1. SHG Post author

          The forum shopping was an abomination, but it’s up the the court to refuse to allow it. It’s neither unlawful nor unethical to try, so if Hogan’s lawyer can get away with it with the judge’s approval, there is no blame on his lawyers for doing so.

          You’re way over your head on fairly simple concepts here and we’re now way off topic. Give it a rest.

          1. Myles

            You *do* realize she’s trying to play gotcha with you, and she just doesn’t realize how clueless she is and stupid she comes off? Why are you being so nice?

            1. SHG Post author

              Meh. I thought her first comment was sincere. She showed her hand on her second. See what I get for being nice?

  5. Alan

    To be clear, isn’t the ‘top school, top grades’ mold a problem? As in, it’s a poor predictor of whether someone will be a good lawyer or not? I swear I’ve heard this stated either here or on fault lines.

    1. SHG Post author

      I think it’s a poor predictor, and I wouldn’t use it, but then, I’m not the person doing the hiring, and whoever is can use whatever metric they think best serves their purpose. And even if that wasn’t the metric, the metric would still be competence, not color.

  6. B. McLeod

    This “Shannon” person was frequently on ATL (or “Glawker”) as the exiled Commentariat now knows it. She spelled her last name “Achimalbe” there, but it is a fake name anyway. Her cliché at ATL was supplying the viewpoint of the marginal job seeker who constantly fails. Despite the variety of opinion found among the Commentariat, I can safely say that Shannon was universally regarded as one of the most useless and clueless writers ever to grace Glawker’s stable. She never seemed to grasp why people would be reluctant to accept career advice from a lawyer (if she even is one) who constantly fails at everything she attempts.

    Then there is the ABA, taking charge of the march for “diversity and inclusiveness” (as long as you agree with their opinions). Like Shannon, the ABA is failing, as demonstrated by the judgment of the droves of former members who have left, to the extent the organization itself admits it is no longer viable as a dues-supported association. Like Shannon (and as already demonstrated with law school accreditation), ABA cocks up everything it touches. There could be no better way to knock “diversity” in the head than to put the ABA in charge of it.

    Finally, Shannon’s premise is (unsurprisingly) incorrect. Maybe she can’t get a job in law firms (again, unsurprisingly), but thousands of “minority” attorneys (the qualified ones) do. All of the large firms have corporate clients that support “diversity.” For the benefit of those clients, most of the firms in fact make regular “diversity” hires, and maintain a revolving door stable of “minority” attorneys at the staff attorney and associate level. The numbers, however, remain static, because the firms generally don’t promote their “minority” attorneys to partnership, and as many are leaving as are arriving. ABA has essentially accepted this (shocker, given its dependency on large firms), even though it has exactly zero potential to ever change the “diversity” picture in law firms. What it does provide is an opportunity for “minority” law graduates to hold these jobs for the period of years necessary to pay their loans, establish their credit and balance sheets, and go off to start their own firms or take jobs for corporations or government agencies.

    People like Shannon will never benefit, of course, because the law firms with “diversity” programs pay large salaries and accordingly, have their pick of graduates nationwide. They never have to take candidates from the part of the class where Shannon would have finished (if, indeed, she ever finished), and they never will. It isn’t about her ethnicity, but her absence of competence, and (at least until forced by ABA), law firms are not going to be expanding their programs to achieve greater “inclusiveness” of the incompetent.

    1. SHG Post author

      I had considered noting (as I’ve been told, since I, obviously, have never worked Biglaw and have no personal knowledge) that they desperately want to grab any female or minority grad who shows promise. But I understand that it’s still promise, not just color or gender.

      But since you raised the question, why aren’t they made partner in proportion to their numbers as associates?

      1. B. McLeod

        It is promise. The firms will never do what Shannon wants, which is to hire the clearly unqualified for large sums of money.

        As to your question. It could be discrimination per se. It is one thing for partners to regard diversity hires as the equal of staff attorneys and associates, but quite another when it comes to recognizing them as the equal of partners.

        However, it is more probably a consequence of regular attrition, and of diversity lawyers’ lesser ability to grow a book of business. After all, better than 90% of young lawyers who start in large firms leave without becoming partners (sometimes because they see it is not what they would like to spend their lives doing). Part of that is the “marketing” aspect that gives first place to the lawyers whose ability to make and ply connections results in the largest portable bookings. Lawyers who aren’t good at (or don’t like) that are better off to take their winnings and leave than to stay and compete under standards which will make long term success difficult or impossible.

  7. KP

    “”This is different than win at any price, which means we ought to lie, cheat and steal. It’s a very important distinction.””

    But… but, this sounds like standard play for the prosecution.. Don’t you CDLs get to play on a level playing field?? Surely…

  8. Dan Hull

    Nice piece, Scott.

    My 2 cents. As you, my family, clients & old friends all know, for a year now I have personally identified as a black female lesbian civil rights activist & university prof named Shanona Janae Angela Davis Harriet Tubman Hull. This has improved my lawyering, my client base and my life.

      1. Dan Hull

        Highlander, an up-votes feature would help Simple Justice’s cred on diversity. More black radical lesbians would comment. But no one wants to do the right thing.

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