Women of color lawyers are far more likely to leave the profession than their white colleagues according to a recent report by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, Left Out and Left Behind: The Hurdles, Hassles, and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Color.
“Seventy percent of female minority lawyers report leaving or considering leaving the legal profession,” a sobering statistic based on a survey of participants that isn’t even statistically significant because the researchers were unable to locate enough women of color in longtime practice to conduct the requisite analysis. Not surprisingly, women of color have the highest rate of attrition from law firms and were more likely to be subjected to both implicit and explicit biases. According to the report, only 2% of equity partners at large law firms are women of color, a statistic that hasn’t changed in 20 years. A copy of the report can be found here.
What about small law firms? The focus of the report is on large law firms, but women of color lawyers who leave those large law firms often find success at smaller law firms or as solo practitioners. Although the report makes clear that far more work needs to be done by large law firms to retain and promote women of color attorneys to equity partnership, smaller law firms should be part of the discussion.
In fact, small law firms are an important, but underused, asset in the battle for corporate legal departments to increase their use of diverse lawyers. Programs like the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) Inclusion Initiative, wherein companies commit to a significant calendar-year-stretch goal of legal spend with diverse law firms, are a start. But there is more that can be done. Corporate legal departments and allies at larger law firms should make focused efforts to identify and send business to small law firms with diverse equity partners.
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