America is a land of diversity but it is widely acknowledged that, when it comes to culturally recognized accomplishments, much disparity still exists between the races in the actual world of business and, yes, of law. This gap begins in the education process, where “the diversity within law school graduation rates does not mirror population demographics,” per a report for Diversity Insider by Sharon E. Jones, a lawyer and diversity consultant.
“For example,” Jones explains, “Asians represent 7.9 % of law school graduates.” That’s not an accurate representation of their proportion in the general population, she notes, which is approximately 4.4%, per the American Bar Association. (Guide to ABA-A Law Approved Law Schools, 2008 Edition.)
“Correspondingly,” she notes, “Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented from a population demographic point of view. Id. Following on the heels of these numbers, law firms which have hired associates of color have proceeded along the lines.
“According to NALP, for the largest firms in the country, the percentage of associates of color in 2009 was 19.7% (NALP, Law Firm Diversity Demographics, 2009).
Partners of color represented 6.1% of the partners in the largest firms in 2009 and women[-]of[-]color partners were 1.9% of all partners in 2009. Id.”
In the corporate world, it’s pretty much the same story. Jones comes up with figures that show that the 6.6% of racially diverse General Counsel closely tracks what’s going on in law firms nationwide. (Law firms are trending at a figure of around 6.1% of partners of color.)
Interestingly—and a huge boon to the culture of diversity within both law and Corporate America—three Fortune 500 CEO’s are lawyers of color.
The first two lawyers to claim that honor were: Kenneth Chenault, of American Express, which, according to its site, is “the premium network for high-spending cardmembers”, and Clarence Otis, Jr., of Darden Restaurants, the company that owns all those Olive Garden chains. (Darden also own Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52.)
Chenault and Otis, Jr. were most recently followed by a third African-American lawyer. In December of last year, Kenneth Frazier (pictured)–formerly president of the global healthcare leader, Merck–was tapped as CEO when the then-CEO stepped down and took the role of Chairman.
The Root had this to say about the appointment: “Naming a lawyer rather than a scientist as the head honcho has become commonplace at the Big Pharmas, [which] face increasing regulation, battles over health care reform, and litigation over patents and injury claims. Frazier was credited with engineering the multibillion-dollar settlement following the Vioxx recall.”
“Although the number of racial and ethnic minority lawyers has been increasing, the pace has been extremely slow—some would say it has moved at a glacial pace,” Attorney Jones of the Diversity Insider says.
But a glacial pace is still indicative of change…of a gradual thawing of die-hard traditions. That’s progress. Upward trends—even when they’re made with baby steps—go a long way towards forging a land of true diversity, with a legal culture of all-out inclusion.