One of the biggest misperceptions attorneys have is that they can practice law on their own terms, being the person they are most comfortable when making hiring decisions being, and still work for a major law firm. I believe law firms expect a high degree of conformity. They do not want their employees to be “too different” because that is unwanted baggage and opens the door to problems involving control. Many law firms want to hire people with whom they feel comfortable, and this means, despite policies to the contrary, they can seek to impose a certain type of uniformity in the way they hire and advance their attorneys.
I have been studying, writing about, working in, and working for law firms for most of my career. As an observer, my interest in law firms has always been why certain people get hired and others do not. As the head of a legal recruiting firm, I work to give people an “edge” with law firms, and I do everything in my power to make sure they get hired. If a law firm says it’s interested in diversity, so am I. I want my candidates to have every advantage they possibly can.
In addition, I have strong personal reasons to support diversity in law firms. My personal life story as well as my professional life have been touched and influenced by issues related to diversity. I grew up near Detroit, a city populated by all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. This was in the seventies and eighties, and my family moved about, broke apart, reconnected, and moved up and down the ladder of economic success throughout my early years. After my parents divorced, I lived with my mom for a time and then with my dad in a steady succession of new neighborhoods and new schools. I experienced diversity from many different vantage points, including what it meant to be marginalized and different from my peers and what it meant to be part of the mainstream majority group. From a young age, I learned how a person’s background, upbringing, exposure, experiences, and cultural milieu combined to create that unique person, with various motivations, a certain sense of class consciousness, and an ingrained set of values and beliefs that affected that person’s prospects.
I believe women, people of color, people of any gender and sexual identity, and all the other unique individuals out there no doubt deserve equal access to participating in the legal profession. Different people bring to bear different viewpoints and experiences that help firms better navigate in today’s global society.
My recruiting firm makes hundreds of permanent placements in law firms of all sizes each year, so my team and I are uniquely positioned to see what law firms favor and do not favor in applicants.1 We provide ample support for attorneys seeking jobs; we collect immense amounts of data, filling databases that track the pulse of the legal profession, to help our candidates find the jobs they want. I also write articles and share what I learn about the current state of employment in law firms across the nation, and my articles are read by tens of thousands of attorneys per week.
Every day headlines across the nation blare the negative consequences of racism, sexism, classism, and every other kind of -ism. At every turn, someone is calling out discrimination or injustice or disadvantage or entitlement. It seems our society is divided along innumerable lines and truly intolerant—despite all the talk about embracing diversity—of all the ways we are different from each other.
The goings-on inside law firms reflect what is happening in the larger society. Race, gender, and social economic divisions are the most toxic and inflammatory subjects we can try to discuss.
Diversity is a complicated and multifaceted issue, with intellectual, practical, ethical, moral, and deeply personal aspects. I share the more personal parts of my story with you because they influence the way I see the diversity issue. They also influence the way I handle—perhaps unwittingly at times—my legal recruiting and related businesses.
There are two main themes of this book. The first relates to the growing problem of censorship and apparent demand for ideological conformity when it comes to discourse on controversial issues such as diversity.
The second theme relates to my efforts to reconcile market economics with diversity goals. I believe in diversity, and I know that many of my candidate attorneys and client law firms certainly do as well. At the same time, I understand that not every diversity initiative is compatible with the way law firms operate. However, there are concrete ways law firms can better meet diversity goals without fundamentally altering the way they do business. The goal of this book is to expose the issues surrounding diversity inside law firms and propose solutions that may help remedy diversity concerns.