Minorities shut out of US firms

Mary Heaney reports from the American Bar Association's annual conference in Toronto

THE PROPORTION of ethnic minority partners in the top 250 US firms has remained virtually frozen at a meagre 3 per cent for the past eight years, according to a major ABA survey.

The survey, which was unveiled last week in Toronto by the ABA commission on opportunities for minorities in the profession, shows that the percentage of non-white partners in the top firms has risen by just 0.5 per cent since 1991.

It says ethnic minority lawyers feel “ghettoised” in certain types of practice and are routinely assumed to be incompetent. Lawyers themselves report that they are isolated from internal social networks and that they have difficulty finding mentors.

The ABA's newly-elected president Philip Anderson said there had been some gains, but added: “None among us was so naive as to believe we could undo in a short time the damage of centuries of societal and professional racism.”

ABA commission chair Jose GAitan said: “The reportS is cause for the ABA to reaffirm its commitment to the principle that lawyers of all colours must be allowed to participate in the profession equally.”

The survey shows that ethnic minority lawyers in private practice are more likely to leave their jobs than any other group of lawyers.

It says they lack access to clients and to external social networks for developing business and this explains why most lawyers from ethnic minorities leave private practice long before they are ever considered for partnership.

Non-white women have made even less progress in private practice than their male counterparts, the report adds.

It concludes that a “vicious non-mentoring cycle” makes the creation of “colour-friendly” cultures and environments in male, white- dominated firms virtually impossible.

Programmes designed to steer work to minority lawyers appear to have been only moderately successful. Minority partners reported that only 3 per cent of their referrals came from such programmes.

The latest Law Society of England and Wales statistics show that 4.3 per cent of solicitors in private practice are from ethnic minority groups.