While there have always been stories and egregious examples, these anecdotes have often been dismissed as atypical and not representative of a profession that says it is committed to diversity. But “Colored by Race: The Evaluation of Candidates of Color By Law Firm Hiring Committees”—a new research study developed and conducted by The Athens Group—offers empirical evidence that racial and ethnic bias is present in large law firm hiring processes.
The findings of “Colored by Race” are based on data gathered from confidential telephone interviews with 114 partners representing 83 large law firms throughout the United States. All of the partners in this study were involved with the hiring process in their respective law firms for at least six months during their career as partners. Research findings show that racial bias colors the way minority law students’ achievements and aspirations are evaluated, that minority candidates are penalized for the high attrition rate of minority practitioners from law firms, and that there are still a significant number of inappropriate comments being made about minority candidates in the evaluation process.
This article not only highlights the key findings from this study, but it also offers strategies that law firms should employ to address the challenges they face in creating and implementing an objective hiring process where differences are valued instead of tolerated and diversity is appreciated instead of exploited.