by Faith Alejandro
Originally published: APril 14, 2017
Facebook recently announced a new policy: At least 33% of the lawyers hired to represent the social media giant must be a female or minority. Law firms vying to service Facebook’s legal work must demonstrate their active efforts to provide meaningful opportunities for women and ethnic minorities to have lead roles in handling Facebook’s legal matters.
This announcement puts Facebook on par with many other employers who, as part of their internal diversity initiatives, have placed pressure on other industries to improve diversity in the workplace. For example, last fall, Verizon called on all of its advertising agencies to report their breakdown of women and minority employees and to adopt action plans for diversifying their workforce. Similarly, investors have added pressure on large companies by calling shareholder votes that mandate companies to diversify their corporate boards and executive ranks.
By creating a carrot for law firms to diversify, Facebook targets a profession notorious for being one of the least diverse in the country and slow to change. A recent report from National Association for Legal Placement determined that minority women continue to be the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level, at just 2.76% of partners in 2016, across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions. And African-American representation in the partnership ranks has barely budged since 2009, at 1.81%. These trends persist despite relatively strong advances in diversity in law school admissions and among summer associate classes, suggesting that representation of women and minorities declines dramatically after the early years of practice because law firms fail to retain and promote these lawyers.