Am I the only one who thinks this is screwy?

According to The American Lawyer’s latest Diversity Scorecard, this year’s winner for the top diversity prize has a superb record on diversity overall, but zero black partners!

Yup, you heard correctly.

And we’re not talking about some firm in Idaho where African Americans are scarce. No, we’re talking about a 371-lawyer firm with its primary office in New York: immigration giant Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy.

It was ranked No. 1 for its outstanding diversity record—nearly a third of all its lawyers (32.5%) and almost a quarter of its partners (23.9%) are minorities. Mighty impressive stats except for that no black partner thing. (The Diversity Scorecard pertains to U.S.-based lawyers.)

Of course, Fragomen is not the only firm in the Am Law 100 with no black partners. It has tony (the toniest?) company: Cravath, Swaine & Moore. (Cravath’s first and last black partner was Rowan Wilson, who left the firm in 2017 to become a judge on New York’s Court of Appeals.) And until the most recent round of partnership elections, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson was in that club too.

After contacting three people at Fragomen (chairman Austin Fragomen, executive committee member Carmita Alonso, and CMO Alison Arjoon) for comment, the firm issued the following after the post’s publication: “At Fragomen, we are proud to foster a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusiveness and is representative of our diverse employees and clients globally. In addition to racial and ethnic diversity, we are committed to providing equal opportunities for all, and we believe our diversity of thought and unique perspectives makes us even stronger. While we appreciate being a recognized leader in diversity, we continue to proactively take steps to develop an even more diverse partnership and workforce.”

And Cravath issued this statement: “Talent development is the critical driver of our success at Cravath, and integral to that is our commitment to diversity and an inclusive workplace. We remain intently focused on providing all of our lawyers the opportunity to excel and are proud that our most recent class of associates is 60% women and 36% diverse, and that over the last four years, 64% of our new partners have been women. Diversity and inclusion are key business priorities for the firm and we are always striving to do better.

At the risk of sounding paranoid, I don’t think anyone is anxious to talk to me about this issue. Whatever.

In any case, why flagellate Fragomen and Cravath when there are plenty of major firms where the stats on black partners suck?

A number of firms, including Davis Polk & Wardwell, are on thin ice, having only one lone black partner. In fact, I combed through the diversity data and compiled a list of AmLaw 100 firms with 1% or less black partners—and here they are:

  • Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati  1%
  • Debevoise & Plimpton  1%*
  • Fish & Richardson  0.5%
  • Davis Polk & Wardwell 0.8%
  • Haynes and Boone  0.4%
  • Cravath, Swaine & Moore  0%
  • Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher  1%*
  • Mayer Brown  0.8%
  • Davis Wright Tremaine 0.7%
  • Williams & Connolly  1%
  • Fried Frank  0%*
  • Dorsey & Whitney 0.4%

( *Since the publication of Am Law’s 2019 diversity data, the firm has elected a new black partner.)

Is it too much to ask that major law firms do better than 1% on the black partner front? Apparently so. And keep in mind, I’m not even asking sticky questions, like how many black partners have equity. Nor am I looking beyond the Am Law 100, which presumably should have the resources to recruit and promote black lawyers.

“People should be appalled that there’s only one black partner in a firm with over 300 lawyers,” says recruiter Ronald Jordan, who specializes in placing diverse lawyers. What’s frustrating, explains Jordan, is that “firms with no black partners will ask me to go get some, then ask that they bring in $1.5 to $2 million in business.” He adds, “firms need to make the investment in black lawyers; they do it all the time for white lawyers.”

Jordan is right: We should be appalled about the state of black lawyers at the nation’s biggest, most profitable firms. Sadly, however, we’ve gotten used to the dearth of black partners at major firms. Sometimes, even having one black partner seems miraculous.

Our expectations were never that high, but how low can they sink?


Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter @lawcareerist