I had the good fortune to attend a portion of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s 2nd Annual Diversity Summit last week. It looked as if it was a big success. There were about 300 attendees or so, which outside a bench bar is the biggest turnout I’ve ever seen for an event like that. I was only able to stay for about 3 hours, but between that and what my reporters relayed to me, I heard some interesting things.
First, it was stunning to see statistics showing that while the percentage of law students who are women or minorities has grown dramatically in the past 30 years or so – growing in leaps and bounds if you will – the percentage of women and minorities who are partners at large law firms has barely increased at all.
That may be apparent to a lot of people in the legal community, but seeing such growth and progress on one end, and hardly any on the other, presented so plainly, shocked me. I would think it would shock some others too.
Which is probably why there was an undercurrent of frustration from some of the people I heard speak. Frustration at the lack of progress, and frustration in the minds of some that issues aren’t being addressed to fix that.
Memo to law firm leadership: if you don’t think diversity is a problem, you’re kidding yourselves. And unless you start addressing the issue, you’re going to lose clients and talent at some point.
Which brings me to my one critique of the summit: it needed more white guys.
I’m not trying to be wise guy either. The vast majority of those in attendance were minorities and women. And that’s great. But if the majority of partners, particularly at the large firms, are white men, then they are the ones who probably needed to hear what was being said more than a lot of the attendees.
If things are going to change, isn’t it going to have to start with a lot of those white men in management?
I know the organizers were aiming to have managing partners and those in firm management in attendance, so I doubt it was a lack of effort on their part.
You would think that if a law firm was concerned about the issue and wanted to improve the diversity at the firm, it would send upper management to an event like the summit. Hmm.
I wasn’t the only person who commented on that. One woman, who identified herself as a government lawyer, expressed some frustration that her bosses weren’t at the summit and didn’t get to hear some of the issues and comments that were coming up.
This isn’t to suggest that the summit wasn’t a success or helpful. It sure seemed to be on both counts, and the organizers should be proud. I just think there would be greater potential for change if more of the white men in upper management attended.
Again, I wasn’t there the whole day. But I didn’t see a whole lot of managing partners. I was hoping I would. I guess there’s always next year.
–Hank Grezlak, Editor-in-Chief