The Big Law Firm’s New Partners

In early December of last year, Paul, Weiss, one of the country’s largest and richest firms, announced its new partners: twelve young white lawyers, and one similarly hued woman.

Being that group identification is everything to certain well-placed people today, the announcement became an instant “public relations nightmare,” according to many media accounts. Sensitive to being sufficiently “woke,” many large companies had their  general counsels, sign an open letter  calling on law firms firms  “to reflect the diversity of the legal community” or they would send their business elsewhere.

What is the assumption underlying that letter? Is it that whites were chosen over better qualified minority lawyers as an act of bigotry and racism? Noooo, nobody’s suggesting that. Are the signatories to the letter really saying that less qualified lawyers of color should be advanced rather than these lawyers? It can’t be that, can it? I would say that a law firm that does not make every effort to have the very best lawyers available for the benefit of the clients is treading close to unethical behavior. A firm can’t prioritize diversity, whatever than means, over its own abilities to represent clients.

I nearly dropped Above the Law, but the reliably knee-jerk left and ethically obtuse online rag is great for these stories, and didn’t disappoint this time. Joe Patrice, the editor, wrote,

It’s not that firms intentionally want their letterhead to feature more white dudes than a Jimmy Buffett concert. Very few law firms set out to cultivate a class bereft of diversity. Rather, they lack imagination and mindlessly hew to a model that grinds most candidates out of the process before it ever reaches this point. Diverse candidates are subtly shunted off into auxiliary roles — counselships or whatever sanitized terminology the firm uses. Implicit biases consistently drive down minority candidate reviews. Women are held back for deigning to have kids. And corporate America’s relatively more progressive hiring poaches quality diverse candidates to the in-house ranks. This isn’t a problem that gets solved the day the firm votes on new partners, it needs to be addressed on the day first-year associates start. But worse than the firm’s failure to find and nurture diverse candidates for partnership, is the naked lack of awareness involved in putting that picture out into the world as a press release. When the resulting image looks like this, someone, somewhere along the line needs to show a modicum of awareness and say, “oof, maybe let’s not put pictures with this one.” The post evinces a complete failure to recognize what’s happening.

He then goes on to criticize the firm for putting the woman’s photo last, because her name came last in the alphabet.

I’ve noted that Harvard’s admissions office uses all sorts of imaginative ways to exclude Asians from its student omissions. Is that the kind of think Joe is talking about? “Come on, you’re lawyers. You can up with ways to discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity without getting caught”? Of course it is. If he’s saying that these were not the best qualified associates to make partner, thus proving that the firm is sexist and racist, then prove it. Since I know big law firms are almost entirely dedicated to making money, and would hire the best lawyers they could find if they were giant talking slugs, I think the burden of proof here is daunting. No, what he’s saying is “surely there is some voodoo ranking system that will ensure more blacks and Hispanics, because in 2019 America, it’s skin color and gender first.”

Here, for the record, is the mea culpa issued by the firm:

We certainly can—and will—do better. I regret the gender and racial imbalance in our newly elected partnership class (one woman, one Latino, one LGBTQ partner, only 25 percent diverse), which resulted from an idiosyncratic demographic pool and which I can assure you will not be repeated.

We intend to continue to play a leadership role in diversity in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation. We look forward to being judged not by our words, but by our results, in the years to come. There is no more important issue to me (and the firm’s leadership) than diversity and it is critical to me that Paul Weiss maintain its historic leadership role as a firm that champions diversity in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation.

Our percentage of female, African-American and LGBTQ partners and associates greatly exceeds the average for New York and U.S. law firms. It would be unfortunate and disappointing if an idiosyncratic demographic pool in one particular year would erase the firm’s diversity achievements over the past 75 years.

Wait, diversity is the most important issue for a law firm and its leadership? Where’s that in the ethics rules? Their #1 priority is supposed to be practicing law well enough top justify such a firm’s obscene fees, not making Joe Patrice happy.

It sounds to me like what the critics of Paul, Weiss want an approach akin to this one, explained by Chloe Angyal, deputy opinion editor of The Huffington Post, in a series of tweets last week March:

Month two of @HuffPost Opinion is almost done. This month we published: 63% women, inc. trans women; 53% writers of colour.Our goals for this month were: less than 50% white authors (check!), Asian representation that matches or exceeds the US population (check!), more trans and non-binary authors (check, but I want to do better).We also wanted to raise Latinx representation to match or exceed the US population. We didn’t achieve that goal, but we’re moving firmly in the right direction.I check our numbers at the end of every week, because it’s easy to lose track or imagine you’re doing better than you really are, and the numbers don’t lie… (The numbers also don’t tell the whole story — about disability, geography, socioeconomics and more).But the work is not onerous and it’s definitely not impossible. If we can do it, every other opinion page can do it, too.And if you have an oped to pitch, here’s how you can do that. We pay, we edit with care and we are anti-Oxford comma.

In the post about this, I opined that Chloe is a bigot. (She was just fired in the recent HuffPo reorganization.) I doubt that the law firm’s management are bigots; they are just weenies who don’t have the guts and integrity to say, “These were the best and most qualified lawyers available, and we stand by our new partners and the process by which they were selected. There are no quotas on excellent lawyers here.”

42 thoughts on “The Big Law Firm’s New Partners

  1. Is it unethical that after I read this: (one woman, one Latino, one LGBTQ partner, only 25 percent diverse) that I went back to see if I could identify the Latino and the LGBTQ? Perhaps my real downfall is that I am assuming I know which of them identifies as a woman.

        • The main problem, I think, is that “Latino” is Spanish for a Latin person of undetermined gender, and “Latinos” is Spanish for a group of Latin people of mixed genders. You only use “Latina” for a Latin woman and “Latinas” for a group of Latin women. This principle is offensive to the woke folk, who insist that everything must specifically mention either both genders or no gender, or it’s sexist.

          The fact of the matter is that it’s not about being diverse or inclusive or any of that other garbage. It’s about controlling how other people talk or think. First you couldn’t say “fireman” or “policeman” or “garbage man,” it had to be “firefighter” or “police officer” or “sanitation worker.” Then you couldn’t use the male pronoun generically, it had to be “he or she” or “his or her” like Gary Gygax, making every sentence 1/3 longer. Now other languages have to conform to this idiocy too.

      • How do you even pronounce that? Latinz? Latinex? Latnex? Latex? I’d be embarrassed to be martyred over something this ridiculous. It’s only a matter of time. I still compulsively use the pronoun ‘he’ for a single person of unspecified sex. I also say ‘transgendered man’ to refer to someone who stopped calling himself a man (and genuinely become confused when people do the opposite). I suppose we know apologies are useless, so when the inevitable happens I might as well go down swinging, right? Maybe I can make the national headlines. Great, now I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to be so disappointed when I’m just quietly fired and blackballed from society.

    • What if it’s actually the person on the bottom-right that identifies as a man?

      Does that mean the group is entirely white men?

      –Dwayne

  2. What the firm did was to say all those other partners here are picked based on something other than skill.

    We cannot gaurantee you get the best when diversity makes us choose from the rest.

  3. I know you have in the past mentioned that a client asking for a white lawyer should be accommodated to ensure he is comfortable with representation.

    Also that asking for a white or a male would probably be unethical and even stupid on the client’s part. This was under the assumption that firms hired the best and assigned them appropriately. Now that a law firm has openly expressed it will prioritize diversity over performance, can we fault a client for actively avoiding diverse lawyers since they are given a leg up on the process?

      • It doesn’t just apply to lawyers, it applies to many other fields where intelligence, skill, integrity and work ethic would normally be the defining criteria.
        I used to work for a high tech fortune 10 company. We actively descriminated against white males and even worse for Asian males. When your candidate pool consists of the top half of the Ivy League and the very top few of the next level for white and Asian candidates but any minority from anywhere with a bachelor’s degree, the contrast is striking.
        Managers aren’t going to assign the hard thing to anyone so drastically lower skilled, but because of the racial makeup, it’s easy to blame rampant racism throughout the company.
        I’m just glad I got out before the progressives took over completely. I saw the culture that James Damore described at Google.

        • Back in the good old days, I was hired out of college at large Telecom company. They had a program where they took new engineers and placed them under contractors in the field to learn the job from the bottom up.

          ‘Melvin’ entered the program with me from an all black college in the South. Nice guy, full of confidence and ambition. He had a talent with tools (which I did not) and excelled at that phase of training.

          After some time out in the field, we were brought in house (Field Services) to replace old engineers who had been given early retirement. This left holes in the hierarchy, which pulled us in sooner than otherwise would have been the case.

          We were therefore pushed into technical installations very quickly, instead of the slow boil the company preferred. I found my niche in this, having a talent for computers and troubleshooting. Melvin did not. We spent extra time coaching him through the program. He did not understand fundamental engineering and telecom concepts, and had to be taught by his teammates. (This was not a problem: we all helped each other with our strengths)

          We all eventually progressed to our own installations, turning up systems across the country. Melvin called us for help (to ‘consult’) a bit more than the rest of the team called him, but it all seemed good. In the course of things, we were all promoted out of Field Services into other engineering jobs… except Melvin. After months as the ‘oldest’ FS engineer, he went to HR, and while I do not know what he said to them, I do know they ‘found’ a promotion for him.

          His new job involved testing the same systems he had been installing and testing: it should have been a piece of cake. However, Melvin struggled with timely results. After poor performance review after performance review, he went to HR claiming ‘racism.’ His colleagues did not get poor reviews, after all, so it must be ‘because he is black.’ Eventually he was let go in a Reduction In Force, believing all the way that his race held him back.

          Melvin was unable to perform his job by any measurable standard. To the point: he never was taught to think critically. Looking back, I can see where the great confidence came from. Melvin was pushed along in school, told how great he was, and expected this to continue in the business world. His wonderful grades HAD to be inflated: he just did not have the knowledge the transcript stated he had. He was a victim of soft racism, even at an all black college, where he was told a lie about reality. It left him unprepared for his chosen profession, where facts mattered and spin would not work.

    • I’ll also note that for the past five years I’ve used my nickname instead of the more Hispanic full name and my other last name (again, the first one is identifiably Hispanic) when sending out resumes. It annoys me because I did not do that over a decade ago when starting fresh out of college. I don’t know if it was better or if I was just more naive.

  4. In horrifying rebelliousness, I rewrote the firm’s mea culpa, and doing so, turned it into a biting (and bitten) commentary on an insane American PC culture. When I read it back to myself, I knew, or rather re-realized, how essentially evil I am to have such thoughts as that. Infernal creature that I am, I am flogging myself, like in that notable scene in The Seventh Seal when the flagellants come through town, beating themselves & wailing . . .

    Needless to say so, it’s been an intense afternoon. Don’t stray from the proper path, my children!

  5. ”the naked lack of awareness involved in putting that picture out into the world as a press release”

    They see problem, not unlike my Alma Mater, the University of Wisconsin/Madison (Go Badgers!!) did way back at the turn of the century.

    A U.W. 2000 Application Booklet cover showed cheering, and uncharacteristically sober, (11:00 a.m. kickoffs’ll do that) throngs at Camp Randall for a football game.

    Regrettably, those cheering throngs had, shall we say, rather a homogeneous look.

    Don’t have diversity? We can help!

    So, if you’ll forgive me, enter Diallo Shabazz.

    One problem, the talented Mr. Shabazz never attended a football game at Camp Randall.

    Needless to say, hilarity ensued.

  6. Paul Weiss should just hire Rachel Dalzell as their hiring partner? Managing partner? Diversity partner? Human capital partner (my favorite)? She can advise all the lawyers on how to simply identify as whatever the firm needs their ranks to be composed of. Problem solved! Get back to billing!

  7. I doubt that the law firm’s management are bigots; they are just weenies who don’t have the guts and integrity to say, “These were the best and most qualified lawyers available, and we stand by our new partners and the process by which they were selected. There are no quotas on excellent lawyers here.”

    No, they’re dollar whores, who wet their pants the minute any of their clients threaten to pull the work. If the client says promote whoever, they will. If the client says you can’t let this person touch another file, that person’s goose is cooked. If the client says jump, they say how high, and if the client says shit, they say what color.

  8. This is the part that really ticks me off:

    “We certainly can—and will—do better. I regret the gender and racial imbalance in our newly elected partnership class (one woman, one Latino, one LGBTQ partner, only 25 percent diverse),”

    … and it’s all too common.

    “25 percent diverse?” Are the other nine people clones? Did they all come from the same kinds of families, go to the same law schools, live in the same neighborhood, and watch the same TV shows? I mean, sure, maybe they did, but that seems unlikely.

    Diversity — actual diversity, of talents and experience and perspectives — does make an organization like a law firm stronger: it means that more clients have access to the best lawyers for their specific cases, and intelligent people with different viewpoints are bringing ideas to the table. But you can not judge actual diversity based on headshots.

    • Because the English, the Irish, the Italians, the French, the Scandinavians, the Germans, and the Slavic people are all interchangeable for diversity purposes. The only thing the woke would see in a room with 8 different people, one from each of those backgrounds, despite the different languages, different faiths, different histories, different ways of bringing up children, and different outlooks on life, would be “too much vanilla, not enough chocolate.” It’s the attitude ascribed to Nellie Forbush in the original “Tales of the South Pacific” before it got diluted for Broadway, where “anyone who wasn’t white or yellow was a nigger” boomeranging.

      • While that is true and annoying, my point is even more than that. My point is that diversity is good, and it should have nothing to do with race (or gender, or sexual orientation.)

        A group of white computer science majors of Irish, Slavic, and French ancestry is no more or less diverse than a group of Black, Hispanic, and Asian ones. This is true, even if the woke refuse to recognize it.

        But a group that includes an Irish Catholic seminary student from Galway, an Irish protestant computer science major from Belfast, an Irish-American English major from Boston, and an Irish-American Biology major from Texas is a more diverse group who likely think in very different ways, and are capable of coming to really creative conclusions and solutions.

        That kind of diversity (within reason) can be a selling point. If you have a law firm where one guy is a great trial lawyer, another guy is a master at settlement negotiation, a third guy has an encyclopedic knowledge of the law and a keen eye for interpretation, and a fourth guy has an undergrad degree in computer science on top of his law degree and really gets the complexities and capabilities of tech these days, you’ve got a team that’s better because it’s diverse even if every one of those guys is a straight white male of English ancestry.

        The corruption of the idea of diversity makes people either turn away from or lose sight of the true value of actual diversity.

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