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Time for Another Stiff Drink--The NYC Bar Diversity Report

Vivia Chen

January 27, 2011

Fotolia_6178478_XS Want to find the silver lining in the newly released diversity report from the New York City Bar? Try squinting hard.

For the first time since March 2004, reports the New York Law Journal, the survey finds that "the percentage of minorities and women declined at the responding firms, dipping to 16.6 percent of total attorneys from 18.1 percent last year for minorities, and 35.3 percent for women, down from 36 percent." (Eighty-eight out of the 108 firms that had signed a 2004 statement of diversity principles responded to the NYCB survey.)

My reading of the NYCB survey is that the progress gained by women and minorities in recent years hit a big snag last year. Among newly promoted partners, the rate of women partners declined from 32.8 percent the year before to 31.9 percent; for minorities, the drop was even steeper--from 17.2 percent to 10.8 percent.

So what accounts for the regression? The survey attributes it to a "delayed reaction to the recession." In case you didn't know, the recession was not a friend to women or people of color.

It also doesn't help that new partners at firms now tend to be laterals rather than internal promotions. Laterals make up two-thirds of new partners in the most recent study; in 2004, they were less than half. "The reality that lateral partner hires are far less diverse than those internally promoted is troubling for future diversity gains at the partner level," says the report.

Women and minority lawyers are also leaving firms in droves. In 2009 the voluntary attrition rate for minorities was 36 percent higher than that of white lawyers. For women, it was 12.1 percent versus 9.5 percent for men. (The report doesn't cover firings and lay-offs, which will probably open up another set of depressing statistics for women and minorities.)

So where's the silver lining? The report finds an uptick in diversity for practice group heads. From 2009 to 2010, minority group heads went from 4.5 percent to 5.7 percent; for women, it went from 14 percent to 15.4 percent.

The other positive is that usage of flextime/part-time increased from 5 percent in 2004 to over 7 percent in the latest study. But even the report cautions, "It is difficult to interpret whether the jump in the usage of flexibility . . . was positive or negative." It could be, the report says, that part-time work resulted from "lack of work and not choice." In any event, though, the NYCB sees this development as a sign of progress to "improve [lawyers'] work-life fit."

Whatever. All in all, things don't look that great for women and minority lawyers in the Big Apple. Let's hope that New York isn't the trendsetter for the profession.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

 Photo: Fotolia

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Yet another reason for me to hate NY. As if I needed it.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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