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We'd Rather Not Change

Vivia Chen

November 2, 2011

ManLet's pretend you head a firm that has a woman problem—like trouble retaining female lawyers, poor record elevating them to partners, etc. And you hire a consultant to look into the problem, who, after an exhaustive study, tells you that your firm's evaluation process is riddled with gender bias. If you're in charge, what would you do?

M.J. Tocci was the actual consultant in that situation. Tocci, along with Monica Biernat and Joan Williams, authored a study (which I wrote about just a few days ago) on how male and female associates were reviewed differently at this anonymous Wall Street firm. In a nutshell: Male lawyers at the firm got higher numerical scores (which counted more for partnership) though women got raves in the narrative portion of the reviews.

So what did the firm do with these startling findings?

Here's the kicker: Nothing.

"I thought the results of the study were shocking," says Tocci. "But the firm didn't care." (Tocci says that her agreement with the firm forbids her from revealing its identity.)

Did the firm doubt the validity of her findings? No, says Tocci: "I think they believed my conclusions. They were just unwilling to do anything about it." Tocci adds that she made a number of suggestions, such as training the partners to be more conscious of bias. But the firm decided against implementing them.

"One partner said to me, 'We'd like for you to help us get a better outcome, but we'd rather not change anything,'" says Tocci incredulously.

There's a logical explanation for the firm's inaction: The partners had no compelling reason to change. Even though "[the firm] was getting dinged as one of the worst places for women to work, their philosophy was that there will always be people who are willing to break their backs to work here," says Tocci. Indeed, she adds, the firm has no problem attracting junior women.

What's more, "the clients didn't care [about its record on women] either," adds Tocci. "So where is the pressure?"

It should come from the clients. I bet the firm would hop to action if the firm's partners sensed that their clients really gave a hoot about promoting women. I know people say that clients are pressuring outside counsel on issues like women and diversity, but, honestly, how insistent are they?

Tocci describes her work for the firm as a draining, frustrating experience. "I was sent all over the world to do focus groups; I had thousands of conversations with lawyers," she says, lamenting how the firm dashed associates' expectations that the firm was serious about reform. "I worked for almost a year on the project; it was like a year with a dysfunctional family. . . . The good news is that the firm paid me a lot of money."

How wonderful that this firm can spare that kind of time and money!

Naturally, I'm trying to figure out what firm this is. We know it's a big New York firm with international offices (which eliminates Wachtell). So what other firms have poor numbers on women partners? Could it be Milbank, Tweed or White & Case? (According to NALP's Web site, both firms seem to have fewer than 10 percent female partners, though White & Case lists higher percentages in some locations outside of New York.)

Am I getting warm? What's your guess?

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I wish I knew which firm this was, so that I would never apply to be an attorney there. I wish I knew who Dirk Johanson really was, too, because I sure as hell would never want to have anything to do with him.

Ida, There's nothing disgraceful about the partner's comments. The fact is that the study shows that women may have received overly-generous narratives even though their performances objectively did not merit it. It could be interpreted to show bias against guys just as easily as it could show bias against women.

The fact that none of the women who conducted the study, reported on the study, or commented on the study are objective enough to see this as an equally-likely way to interpret the results is a stunning indictment of the analytical ability of members of the female sex.

Does anyone know what lawyers in this firm are doing in response to this story? How are they reacting to the partner's disgraceful comments - and the arrogance behind them? Does he reflect the attitude of most lawyers in the firm? Are the women - and decent men - in the firm rising up in protest? The study did not name the firm, but if lawyers were interviewed for it, they must be aware of all this.

The employer will always control the employee - no matter what they say.

What I really want to know is, why did the firm hire Tocci to begin with?

In case any women out there are considering a career in the law, I suggest that you instead consider a career in the bogus feminist study industry. It appears a lot more lucrative, and with all that travel, a lot more fun.

Guys, too. After all, a feminist study authored by a guy who is treasonous toward his own sex is more likely to have impact.

Jr. Partner needs a grammar lesson.

And deserves it.

That firm is about to be sued and deserve it.

Tocci is about to get sued.

And deserve it.

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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: [email protected]

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