Corporate Action on the Issue of Diversity Among Law Firms

Posted by Amritha Pillai. 

The lack of diversity in the workplace is a growing issue in many fields and even extends to both the legal and corporate worlds. However, in the article “Diversity at Elite Law Firms Is So Bad Clients Are Docking Fees” by Ellen Milligan and Todd Gillespie, the authors discuss how corporations are using this lack of diversity to their advantage. Many large global companies such as Facebook and HP have threatened law firms to cease collaboration if diversity continues to be lacking. This isn’t a threat that law firms can take lightly, as these major corporations bring  in large amounts of money, thus law firms are forced to consider this problem head on. What I found to be most interesting was that in the article it stated, “It’s not that the companies pushing for change are models of diversity. Most have their own distinct struggles with representation.” (Gillespie and Milligan 2021). This issue is on both sides of the equation; however, corporations are more concerned because they fear that they have more to lose. Many law firms are being run in a highly influenced manner. Often one or a select few individuals are charged with making major decisions and the rest of the firm tends to follow. The fear is that without diversity, there is a lack of questioning and creativity. Therefore, these corporations feel that they are not getting the best resources available to them. 

This push for diversity has been an on-going battle, however law firms have been slower at addressing this issue. This can be seen by simply observing the numbers. The article stated, “Women make up a little more than a quarter of partners at 10 of the most prestigious firms on either side of the Atlantic” (Gillespie and Milligan 2021). This is a concerning statistic, as this is purely based on gender and has not even stepped into the realm of race or economics. The article went on to state, “About 10% of partners at U.S. firms are people of color,” and, “Racial minorities make up only 8% of U.K.-based partners at elite British firms” (Gillespie and Milligan 2021). Once again, a staggering number because this is just an indication that majority of the field is comprised on people belonging to the same race and same gender. This only backs the idea that the lack of diversity is an ever-growing issue. 

HP Inc. was one of the first companies to really push this issue and went as far as to say that they would refrain from paying a percent of the fees if diversity benchmarks were not met (Gillespie and Milligan 2021). Facebook then followed suit but had their own conditions. Facebook required “half the lawyers on its external U.S. legal teams are diverse—in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability status— “. Similar to HP, Facebook also threatened to withhold fees if these requirements were not met. The only solution in sight is the growth of diversity among young lawyers who can incorporate themselves into major positions in these law firms in the years to come. While reading the article, I questioned whether corporations held the power to make such demanding requests. However, given that they are paying for a service I think that wanting the best representation is something in the realm of their control. I also think that diversity is important for the world as a whole, because at this point, many aspects of society are tailored to people from one specific background. However, it is important to cater to the needs of people stemming from various different identities and backgrounds.

Amritha is a biology major at Seton Hall University.