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But Where Are the Black Partners?

Vivia Chen

January 15, 2019


Nothing gets firms all hot and bothered than giving one of their competitors favorable air time.

Last week, I wrote about Munger Tolles's crop of new partners, noting that it promoted 60 percent female or people of color. The next day, I heard from a handful of major firms that they, too, elevated new classes with noteworthy percentages of women or diverse partners.

First of all, I am more than happy to publicize their results:

- Quinn Emanuel promoted 14 lawyers, including seven women and three diverse attorneys—its largest-ever partnership class. 

Let me say Mazel Tov to these four firms plus Munger Tolles! Their percentage of new diverse/female partners is commendable, particularly since so few came forward. (Query: Does that mean the rest of Big Law generally have crummy results?)

Indeed, some of these firms seem to be on a roll. At Akin, three of the 11 new partners took parental leave during the last year—and “all three of them were men,” according to firm spokesman Ben Harris. Moreover, one of the new partners is a woman who “worked primarily on a reduced workload schedule and continues to after being promoted to partner.” And in the last five years, women have represented more than 40 percent of new partners at both Morrison & Foerster and O’Melveny. (It’s also worth noting that O’Melveny and Munger Tolles both provide on-site child care facility.)

Larren Nashelsky, chair of Morrison & Foerster, says: “I am proud that in the last five years we have promoted 29 women to partner, representing 48 percent of our total partner promotions.”

All admirable results, except for one glaring omission: black partners. With the very notable (and noticeable) exception of Akin, which promoted a black woman to partner this year, none of the others that touted their diversity records did so.

More distressing is that new black partners also appear absent in firms with huge partnership classes this year. For instance, neither White & Case (41 new partners) nor Jones Day (46 new partners) seems to have elevated any blacks. Women, by contrast, fared quite well at both firms—19 new female partners at White & Case and 22 at Jones Day. And, yes, there were Asians and Hispanics in the mix, too. White & Case did not respond to inquiries about minorities in its new class. Jones Day did not return messages seeking comment.

Sadly, we know from recent studies on diversity in the profession that black equity partners are rare. The National Association for Law Placement’s latest data shows that black partner rates have barely changed since 2009, and the rate of black associates still hasn’t recovered since that recession. Another study by Vault/Minority Corporate Counsel Association finds that the rate of black lawyers promoted to partner last year—2.3 percent—was actually the lowest to date. And if the new partner announcements so far are any indication, this year could be just as depressing or worse.

As I said, it’s a relief that there’s finally some movement on the women and diversity front (for some). But doesn’t that make the lack of progress for black lawyers even more conspicuous? Sometimes, I get the impression that we just don’t want to talk about this problem.

Anyway, I hope I’ve simply overlooked a bunch of new black partners announcements at major firms. Or maybe some firms are just holding back to surprise us.

In the meantime, if you know any new black partners on the horizon, give me a shout. Because it’s definitely newsworthy.


Twitter: @lawcareerist.


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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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