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Cravath Still Has Zero Black Partners

Vivia Chen

July 14, 2020

Right-4703922_1920Last year, I asked this pointed question: How it’s possible there are still Am Law 100 firms with zero Black partners?

Well, it’s 2020 and I’m at it again. And the answer is that it’s still possible. There are still major firms in this land where you can’t find one Black partner roaming the halls, no matter how hard you look.

This year’s winners for this singular distinction are Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Haynes and Boone. (Last year, Cravath shared the award with immigration giant Fragomen Del Rey, which squeaked by this year with a 0.5% Black partner rate.)

Unfortunately, Cravath is a perennial in this category. Suffice it to say, it’s a bit shocking that a firm of such renown could be such a failure when it comes to Black lawyers. (Cravath’s first and last Black partner in its 101-year history was Rowan Wilson, who left in 2017 to become a judge on New York’s Court of Appeals.) That said, Cravath’s partnership is relatively small (82 partners) and all equity. Haynes and Boone, in contrast, has 229 partners, including 102 nonequity, and it still can’t scrape together one Black partner.

But let’s not beat up on Cravath and Haynes. If you scratch the surface, you’ll find plenty of other big firms where Black partners are barely existent or have no real clout.

This year, I’m focusing on the equity status of Black partners because, to state the obvious, equity means money and power. Frankly, it’s too easy (and self-serving) for firms to make a bunch of minority and women “partners” without sharing the pot.

So let’s pull back the window dressing. Here are the Am Law 100 firms with zippo Black equity partners, based on the average full-time equivalent attorney counts for the 2019 calendar year in our Diversity Scorecard:

Cravath Swaine & Moore

Fried Frank

Gordon Rees (Since the survey, the firm says it has elevated one Black equity partner)

Haynes and Boone

Kilpatrick Townsend

Mintz Levin

Winston & Strawn (Since the survey, the firm reports two new Black equity partners)

The good news is that there have been some improvements in the intervening time. Sadly, however, some firms are dodging the issue entirely. Among the Am Law 100 firms that failed to provide any information about Black partners to our Diversity Scorecard are Alston & Bird; Boies Schiller; Bryan Cave; Kirkland & Ellis; Sidley Austin; Troutman Sanders; Vinson & Elkins; and Womble Bond—which, coincidentally, happen to be the firms that refused to break out equity/nonequity rates of their female lawyers. Are they refusing to divulge the information out of principle or are their stats embarrassing? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

Then there are the Am Law 100 that are just scraping by—barely—those with just one lonely Black partner in their equity ranks. There are 20 such firms for 2019, including powerhouses such as Debevoise & Plimpton (since the survey, the firm has elevated an additional Black equity partner); Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Quinn Emanuel; Orrick; and Wilson Sonsini.

So what do firms have to say for themselves about these dreadful statistics?

Haynes and Boone’s managing partner Tim Powers sent me a statement in which he stressed the importance of diversity while acknowledging “that our best intentions are simply not enough,” adding, “we need to do much more to recruit, retain and advance minority lawyers, who often leave the firm for a variety of opportunities.” He also noted that the firm has formed a task force of senior leaders, led by its director of diversity, and that “we sincerely, fervently aspire to be a market leader in diversity and will not rest until we have achieved that goal.”

It’s a good response, but one I’ve heard before. I know it by heart by now: Diversity is a top priority for us. We are trying. Very hard. Doing our best. Truly.

I also contacted Cravath and other firms on the list above, but have not heard back. Maybe they’re still trying to craft the right response. Or maybe it’s because they know deep down there’s not much they can say. Because until their numbers back their rhetoric, it’s all meaningless.


On Twitter: @lawcareerist



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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: VChen@alm.com

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