US firms steal a march on UK counterparts in diversity stakes

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US firms are leading the way when it comes to the representation of ethnic minorities in their workforces, although proportions remain low across the board, this year’s diversity league table from the Black Solicitors Network has revealed.

The league table focused on analysing the numbers of female and ethnic minority partners, associates, trainees and paralegals at 30 UK top 100 firms, 13 international practices and seven top 10 City firms. It also noted the 10 most diverse employers in LGB and disabled employee terms.

The five firms with the greatest number of ethnic minority partners are O’Melveny & Myers with exactly one third of partners coming from a black or mixed race background; Simmons & Simmons with 18 per cent ethnic minority partners; Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton with 13 per cent ethnic minority partners, all from an Asian background; White & Case with 12.5 per cent ethnic minority partners; and Paul Hastings, where 12 per cent of partners are from an ethnic minority background.

It is a similar picture when it comes to ethnic diversity among associates and trainees. At associate level the same firms dominate the top four places with Simmons & Simmons at the top of the table with 30 per cent and K&L Gates replacing Paul Hastings as the fifth most diverse with 21 per cent.

At the trainee level it is much the same, although at Flint Bishop 50 per cent of trainees are Asian and 50 per cent white. Otherwise, the proportion of trainees from ethnic minority backgrounds ranges from 33 per cent at Russell-Cooke to 24 per cent at Latham & Watkins, the fifth most diverse firm for ethnic minority trainees.

When it comes to female representation at partner level, a couple of firms are nearing a 50/50 male-to-female split. At Winckworth Sherwood 42.5 per cent of partners are women. The figure drops slightly at Withers, whose partnership is 42 per cent female, while women make up 39 per cent of partners at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin and Pannone. At Trowers & Hamlins the figure is 35.

There is a clear rate of drop-off from female trainees and associates through to partner level. “There’s a lot of attrition. You tend to find diversity is like a pyramid,” explained chief researcher on the report Dr Peter Urwin.

“They [law firms] do genuinely seem to be trying to increase diversity within their workforce… They should be concerned about the rate of attrition because it represents a real loss of investment.”

Among female associates, the most diverse firms are Flint Bishop with 75 per cent; Matthew Arnold & Baldwin with 74 per cent; Irwin Mitchell with 71 per cent; Pannone with 69 per cent and Ward Hadaway with 66 per cent.

The firms with the highest proportion of female trainees are Matthew Arnold & Baldwin with 85 per cent; Sidley Austin with 78 per cent; Russell-Cooke with 75 per cent; Irwin Mitchell and Charles Russell with 74 per cent each.

LGB employee numbers at firms ranged from 6 per cent at Paul Hastings to 3 per cent at the 10th most diverse employer, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.

Sarah Gregory, chair of Baker & McKenzie’s London diversity committee, said: “It’s encouraging to see that this year’s diversity league table saw the largest number of firms and barristers’ chambers involved so far. However, it’s clear that the profession still has some way to go. The legal industry could do more in the area of disability and encouraging an environment in which openness about disability is more acceptable.”

Urwin added: “It [the lack of diversity] may not affect [firms] this year or the next but in the long term they’ll suffer some kind of decline in the market. Brands take a very long time to be undermined but it’s a long-term concern if they don’t combat it.”

The survey attempts to gauge both the present situation and the commitment of firms and chambers to enhancing diversity in the near future. Firms are awarded a maximum of 1,000 points as a ‘diversity quotient’, with 50 per cent of this score reflective of rankings in gender and ethnic minority stakes while the other 50 per cent is based on firms’ responses to questions on policy relating to monitoring, leadership and internal strategy, external ‘face’, staff development and support and recruitment, promotion and retention.