Study: Innovative California Law Firms Stop the Revolving Door – Silicon Valley Diversity Leaders Meet to Share Best Practices for Keeping Diverse Lawyers

June 1, 2011 (San Francisco, CA) – For the second year, some of the nation's most innovative law firms have chosen to share – among even their fiercest competitors – best practices for keeping diverse lawyers.

Turnover rates at most large law firms have historically been higher for minorities and women. During normal economic times, most firms hire enough new diverse attorneys to maintain a relatively stable overall percentage of minorities and women. During the recent economic downturn, however, most firms did not hire many new attorneys leaving few new diverse attorneys to backfill for minorities and women who departed during that period. From 2008 to 2009, the total percentage of minorities and women at large law firms declined for the first time in recent history.

According to a best practice research study conducted by Talent Advisory Board Inc., an independent third party research and consulting firm, and co-sponsored by Fenwick & West LLP and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, some innovative California law firms did not mirror the industry trend. According to the California Law Firm Diversity Retention Best Practices study report, these best practice firms were able to outperform at least one Talent Advisory Board 2009 California Large Law Firm Retention Benchmark. The retention benchmarks were developed using California Lawyer's2010 California 50 law firms for which relevant demographic and hiring data was available through the annual Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey.

The study also shows that California law firms are more diverse on average than law firms across the rest of the nation. The study went well beyond reporting on diversity programs to investigate how the best practice firms structure work assignments, staff and manage retention programs, use metrics to ensure accountability and structure career paths and compensation models in a way that helps to retain diverse attorneys. Diversity committee chairs and talent management and diversity professionals were particularly candid during research interviews.

During a recent meeting of the participating firms, the director of the research, elaborated on the key findings across the group. Tina Shah Paikeday, Managing Director of Talent Advisory Board, remarked, "All of these firms are innovating with new approaches to diversity. Those that will continue to achieve superior retention results will have identified the factors which are most important to diverse attorneys, such as advancement opportunities and work-life integration, and will find ways to maximize attorney satisfaction." Some practices highlighted in the study include:

  • The assignment of associates to a stable group of partners who provide work and sponsorship
  • The existence of role models leading business groups who have utilized work-life programs
  • The focus of diversity committees on monitoring turnover metrics for diverse attorney segments
  • The development of formal career tracks to fit the changing needs of diverse attorneys
  • The use of internal surveys and affinity groups for feedback on competency based models

Fenwick Partner and Diversity Committee Co-Chair Michael Shuster said, "Fenwick is committed to the success of its diverse attorneys and strives to understand the key factors impacting diverse attorney retention. Efforts are ongoing at the practice group level to develop specific plans with measurable goals that improve the firm’s ability to retain and advance the careers of its diverse workforce."

"Orrick has a long history of commitment and leadership in promoting diversity. Supporting, retaining and promoting our diverse lawyers and staff is key to delivering our clients top legal service," said Lorraine M​cGowen, Orrick Partner and Chair, Firmwide Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. "We are proud of the progress we have made in enabling our diverse attorneys to thrive personally and professionally through our mentoring circles and affinity groups that provide executive committee members with reverse mentoring, our efforts to develop and implement articulated benchmarks for associates in each practice group, and our efforts to ensure a fair allocation of work assignments amongst all attorneys."

Research Participants

Firms including Cooley LLP, Fenwick & West LLP, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Professional Corporation were selected for inclusion as major California law firms which outperformed at least one Talent Advisory Board 2009 California Large Law Firm Retention Benchmark.

About Fenwick & West LLP

Established in 1972, Fenwick & West works closely with clean technology, life sciences and other technology companies that are changing the world through innovation. The firm has more than 30 years of experience crafting innovative solutions to the business challenges that arise at the intersection of technology and the law. Fenwick & West clients, who range from start-up ventures to global enterprises, value our attorneys' deep industry experience and understanding of their technologies. The firm is ranked by Minority Law Journal as one of the top five most diverse law firms in the United States. The Diversity Committee at Fenwick & West works closely with the attorney recruiting department to increase outreach at law schools targeted to diverse student communities and Fenwick has been actively involved in various groups and activities that work to promote diversity both in the legal profession and the community, including the Asian American Bar Association, Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF), the ABA Section of the Litigation Committee for the Minority Trial Lawyer and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. The Firm has implemented diversity training, mentoring, assignment tracking and recruiting initiatives in order to strengthen diversity. In its efforts to embrace diverse heritages, the Firm hosts cross-cultural celebrations, including Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year and Juneteenth. For more information please visit Fenwick's website.

About Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP is a global law firm with more than 1,100 lawyers in North America, Europe and Asia. The firm focuses on litigation, complex and novel finance and innovative corporate transactions. Orrick clients include Fortune 100 companies, major industrial and financial corporations, commercial and investment banks, high-growth companies, governmental entities, start-ups and individuals. The firm's 23 offices are located in Beijing, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Orange County, Paris, Portland, Rome, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Taipei, Tokyo and Washington, D.C. Through its Diversity and Inclusion and Women's Initiatives, the firm works actively to ensure it is able to bring diverse perspectives to the table for its clients. Orrick believes that the varied backgrounds and experiences of its lawyers broaden the firm's perspective and enrich collaboration. Since 1990, Orrick's firmwide Diversity and Inclusion Committee, one of the first in a major law firm, has advised the firm’s management on a broad range of issues to ensure that Orrick is successful in hiring, retaining and promoting minority, women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lawyers and lawyers with disabilities. The firm has an extensive diversity initiative that includes regional diversity committees and gender, minority and LGBT affinity groups, as well as a Parents' Forum and a Veterans' Forum to address the interests and needs of these two groups. The firmwide and office diversity committees assist in the firm's lawyer recruiting efforts, associate orientation, summer program, attorney training and development, attorney mentoring, pro bono and community activities, and numerous other aspects of firm life. Diverse lawyers also play an integral role in managing the firm (as office leaders, committee chairs, practice group leaders, and as members of the firm's Executive Committee among others) and shaping its future

About Talent Advisory Board Inc.

With the social mission of fostering a greater understanding between people of diverse backgrounds, Talent Advisory Board Inc. is a boutique management consulting firm focused on advancing workforce diversity. The firm's consultants have experience in human resources strategy, diversity programs and employee research, and they provide leading edge diversity management consulting services to law firms. The firm uses an analytical approach to solve the most challenging diversity problems including recruiting, retaining and advancing diverse legal professionals. Talent Advisory Board enables diversity to be a powerful asset for clients to leverage for competitive advantage. The firm is minority-owned and woman-owned. For more information please visit Talent Advidsory Board Inc.'s website.


Elizabeth Lampert
Elizabeth Lampert PR

David Schaefer
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP