There Is Reason for Optimism

I want to be known for delivering results for clients, increasing revenue for my firm, and creating opportunities for associates and partners of every color, whether man, woman, or gender fluid. But as I approach my thirtieth year of practicing law, I am both dubious and optimistic regarding the status of African American women in the legal profession. The percentage of African American women associates has decreased in the last ten years, according to the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) 2018 Report on Diversity. Worse, the percentage of black female partners at major law firms in the United States is an abysmal .68 percent.

The hard truth is that corporate clients, regardless of gender and/or minority status, are much more likely to hire white male lead litigators than lawyers of color, which is aggravated for women of color when gender biases are considered. Retention by clients leads to increased financial success, due to the compensation models of most firms, and increased business success because the more you get hired, the more you get hired. As a former in-house attorney, I know the value of reliance on tried-and-true outside counsel. But one must get hired to be tried, and hired again to be true.

In any other situation, it would be acceptable to rely on organic change to inch toward some level of parity, but conscious and unconscious biases prevent the natural evolution of our profession. Fortunately, this is the age of disruption and reality checks, so I find myself grasping at optimism, shored by the incredible changes I have seen at my own firm in just four short years.

Winston & Strawn, LLP, is taking a hard look internally and acting intentionally with our external clients to revolutionize how we regard one another as colleagues and leaders within the firm, and how we can more successfully promote our colleagues to clients. We are joined in our efforts by other great firms who are engaged in change-making processes.

But for me as a former in-house lawyer, the most important change is that our corporate clients are increasingly led by leaders who recognize that their hiring patterns today dictate how the profession will look tomorrow. Because doing the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity, but doing the same thing and pretending to expect a different result is futility.