Tag Archives: Podcast

Diversity in Biglaw: Same Old Rhetoric or Reason for Optimism?

Diversity and inclusion are top of mind for law firm marketing departments these days. For Biglaw firms, expressing a commitment to boosting diversity in the profession is expected. But when it comes to executing on that commitment, the results have been uneven.

How are firms doing on diversity?

In a recent episode of Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers, hosts Zach Sandberg and David Lat reviewed the landscape. Citing data from Leopard Solutions, David noted that in 2021, 17% of lawyers in top 200 firms were ethnically diverse, a percentage that was unchanged from 2020. However, at the partnership level the representation of minority lawyers grew from 10% to 11%. As David pointed out, that increase is significant in percentage terms, representing 10% year-over-year growth. But at the same time, it is still far from representative of the broader U.S. population.

Some firms are doing considerably better than most. The ALM Intelligence 2021 Diversity Scorecard lists White & Case as featuring 21.9% minority partners, making it the only AmLaw 50 partnership with greater than 20% ethnically diverse representation. On the other hand, some of the most prestigious and financially secure Biglaw firms are notable laggards: minority representation in the Wachtell and Sullivan & Cromwell partnerships stands at 8.9% and 9%, respectively.

Is there reason for optimism?

As we discussed on the podcast, it’s easy to be cynical about calls for increased diversity in the legal profession. Every year discussion of the problem grows more prominent, but the rate of actual change has been glacial. Nevertheless, we point to the Mansfield Rule as one cause for optimism. Modeled after the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview diverse candidates as part of the head coach hiring process, the Mansfield Rule “measures whether law firms have affirmatively considered at least 30 percent women, lawyers of color, LGBTQ+ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, formal client pitch opportunities, and senior lateral positions.” Firms that commit to that standard can become Mansfield Certified.

As David noted, an advantage of the Mansfield approach is that it ensures diverse candidates gain interview opportunities without establishing a quota for hiring decisions. That should make it palatable even to some firm leaders who may be skeptical of more aggressive campaigns to increase diversity. Indeed, the number of participating major law firms has grown to exceed 100.

Even so, it is notable how many top firms have not yet chosen to participate. Let’s take Gibson Dunn as a case study. The firm’s diversity performance is mediocre — not the worst in its peer group, but not exactly cause for celebration. Gibson’s partnership features 12.1% minority representation (as reported in the 2021 Diversity Scorecard). For comparison, fellow California-headquartered firm Wilson Sonsini is at 19.2%. Interestingly, Wilson Sonsini is Mansfield Certified, whereas Gibson is not.

Who should take responsibility for increasing diversity?

On another recent Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers episode, guest Monique Burt Williams, CEO of Cadence Counsel, addressed the growing number of law firms and companies hiring Chief Diversity Officers. Creating a position exclusively focused on diversity and inclusion can be an important positive step, but it carries risk that senior management will delegate the whole problem to the new hire. As Monique likes to say, “your Chief Diversity Officer should be your CEO.” In other words, unless law firm leaders are personally committed and engaged in efforts to make meaningful progress, we cannot expect a substantial increase in representation of diverse lawyers in Biglaw. The challenge is too important to be delegated.

Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers: A New Legal Industry Podcast

Are you a lawyer? Someone who hires lawyers? Do you care about the latest trends in Biglaw? If so, you should be listening to Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers, a new podcast from Lateral Link. Hosted by Zach Sandberg and David Lat, the podcast provides a coast-to-coast view of what is happening in Biglaw. From major lateral partner moves to intriguing office openings to emerging legal industry trends, the podcast fills you in and lets you know what to expect.

So who are Zach and David, and why should you care what they think?

Zach Sandberg is a Senior Director based in Lateral Link’s Los Angeles office. He focuses on placing attorneys at premier firms and corporations throughout California and the West Coast. With about a decade of experience in legal recruiting, Zach draws on his wide network of law firm sources to gain insight into the latest Biglaw trends.

David Lat likely needs no introduction. A renowned legal industry writer best known for founding Above The Law, David is an alum of Yale Law School, Wachtell, the Department of Justice, and Lateral Link. His latest project is Original Jurisdiction, a Substack newsletter that “aspires to be a source of incisive, fair-minded, and occasionally entertaining commentary about law and the legal profession.” David’s connections within the broader legal industry are second to none.

The hosts typically begin with news about notable lateral moves and office openings, then spend the majority of the episode covering a broader industry trend. For example, in the most recent episode (Episode 5), Zach and David discuss Davis Polk’s lateral hire of Cleary Gottlieb tax partner Corey Goodman and reflect on the retention challenge for Cleary’s lockstep model, versus Davis Polk’s newly more flexible compensation system. They also address the move of a highly-pedigreed five-partner litigation group from Munger Tolles to Wilson Sonsini and discuss Wilson Sonsoni’s opening of a Salt Lake City office. The majority of the episode is devoted to the growing trend of virtual law firms. Noting that a virtual firm, FisherBroyles, recently entered the AmLaw 200 for the first time, the hosts compare the economics of virtual firms to the traditional Biglaw model. They discuss the type of partner for whom the virtual firm model might be most advantageous, the extent to which virtual firms will appeal to associates, and the outlook for continued virtual firm growth.

In Episode 4, Zach and David cover former Delaware Chancellor Andre Bouchard’s decision to join Paul, Weiss as a litigation partner in the Wilmington office, as well as Crowell & Moring’s office opening in Denver. They also talk about the notable uptick in 2021 of cross-border lateral hires of international associates by U.S. Biglaw offices. The hosts explain what is driving that trend, which countries are most favored for cross-border lateral hires, and whether the American Biglaw market is likely to remain open to international associates in the longer term.

Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers has already addressed several timely topics, including Biglaw Office Openings, the Attorney Talent War, and the Future of Work. But the podcast remains a work in progress, by design. Zach and David are actively soliciting feedback from listeners about the topics they should cover. The goal is for the podcast to be as useful and informative as possible. The target audience is busy, and that’s why the hosts decided an audio format would be best. With a run-time around 30 minutes, the idea is to produce a product that busy lawyers can consume while on the go.

If you have suggestions for topics that Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers should cover, please reach out to Zach Sandberg or David Lat, and let them know what you’d like to hear discussed!

For now, a new edition of Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers is being released every two weeks. If you’d like to be notified when a new episode is available, please sign up here.