Do BigLaw Associates Not Care About Diversity?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 18, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The law remains one of the most homogeneous professions in America. But when it comes to efforts to bring a little more diversity into the nation's biggest law firms, you'd expect strong support from those firms' junior lawyers, right? After all, Millennials aren't just the most diverse generation today, they're significantly more likely than their elders to view diversity and inclusion as an important factor when considering a job.

Yet, when it comes to diversifying the legal profession, Millennial associates' enthusiasm for diversity is significantly lower than their firm's partners', according to a new survey.

A Focus on Diversity, Just at the Top

Law firm partners are significantly more likely than associates to view diversity as an important priority, according to a new survey conducted by Above the Law and the recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. Fifty-seven percent of surveyed partners strongly agreed that diversity should be a priority for law firms, while only 39 percent of associates agreed with that statement.

The Millennial response wasn't a monolith, however. Indeed, associate responses demonstrated a significant bi-modal distribution, with respondents tending to rank diversity either very low on their list of priorities or very high. About 17 percent of associates somewhat or absolutely disagreed that diversity and inclusion should be a priority. Eleven percent had no opinion. Meanwhile, 72 percent agreed somewhat or strongly -- a less enthusiastic response than partners', but not an insignificant amount of support.

"This suggests," according to the survey, "that significant proportions of millennial attorneys tend to value diversity and inclusion either very highly or hardly at all."

The survey involved over 1,200 legal professionals across 132 law firms, with junior and mid-level associates making up 77.45 percent of respondents.

A Difference in Perspective?

So, why is there such a difference between associates and partners when it comes to diversity? It could be an issue of perspective, according to Major, Linsey & Africa's Ru Bhatt. "Partners feel the pressure of clients demanding more diverse teams and see the positive impact of these teams, which amounts to an understanding of diversity's crucial role," Bhatt told Bloomberg's Big Law Business. Indeed, several major corporate clients have started demanding that firms meet significant diversity goals, not just in leadership roles, but throughout their teams.

Associates, meanwhile, are less likely to face those pressures and perhaps a little defensive of their territory. "Associates, understandably so, are looking at it from a specific point of view, which is in terms of their own career, perhaps not necessarily putting the entire organization as a whole in perspective," according to Bhatt.

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