Several weeks ago I reported on a significant initiative by 170 general counsel and corporate legal officers – an open letter, published on LinkedIn, warning law firms that if their record of partnership promotions failed to reflect the diversity of the general population, a number of leading corporations would be disinclined in future to hire them as outside counsel.
Shortly after the letter was published, Don Prophete, a partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, chastised the law profession in general for the continual need for initiatives such as the open letter, which he says have been ongoing for years without noticeable effect.
“Here is what has happened to law firm diversification since the first letter was penned in the early 2000s,” Prophete writes. “Today, law firm racial diversity has either remained stagnant or has decreased significantly. The latest report on Black male lawyers in law firms is alarming. Judging by these numbers, the profession has regressed significantly. [….] The numbers for Latinos, Asians and ‘others’ remain dreadfully low as well.”
Based in part on his own, highly successful career in labor and employment law – which has, he says, led to exactly zero offers from GCs based on his track record to work on major matters – Prophete believes that most of those with “significant outside counsel spend” as the signatories to the open letter describe themselves, put their names to such letters because it is “a politically necessary thing to do, which ultimately requires zero accountability.”
Saying the right thing to appear politically correct is different than taking real measures to diversify the legal profession. – Don Prophete
While no direct line can be drawn between the lack of improvement in racial diversity in law firms and lack of initiative even by those who are protesting the lack of improvement, it is impossible to ignore the soundness of his allegations. His statement includes a list of ways in which GCs demonstrate their lack of actual interest in increasing diversity when they hire outside counsel. Here’s one: “If you asked most GCs today to identify by name a single racially diverse outside counsel that the company uses, how many could actually identify that lawyer by name […]?”
Prophete’s questions must be addressed in congruence with – not instead of – the points that were raised in the open letter. Clearly, confrontations with this significant problem must take place on more than one front, and must include action as well as words.
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