When a law firm announced its 2019 partners, they didn’t expect such a strong reaction. A photo shows the 12 members of the new group—all white and only one woman. Paul Weiss is an elite firm in midtown Manhattan and claims that this year is unusual.
The firm has since removed the photo from LinkedIn, where it drew attention. About 170 lawyers across the country wrote an open letter to express their wishes for a more diverse legal community.
Paul Weiss leaders took quick action to address the controversy and held a town hall meeting for employees. Firm leaders also say this group is unusually not diverse. In fact, the firm was recognized by a Microsoft initiative that offers bonuses to diverse law firms. In addition, 23% of the firm’s partners are women compared to about 18% of other law firms’ top leaders. The firm’s website boasts additional awards for diversity, including being ranked #16 in The American Lawyer’s 2018 Diversity Scorecard.
An email to Paul Weiss employees shows the words “diversity” and “associate professional satisfaction” in quotes, and a writer for the website Above the Law warns,
“…maybe there’s still some work to be done in mastering how to talk about these subjects. In general, don’t put anything in quotation marks that you wouldn’t be willing to sarcastically put air quotes around in conversation. That’s my advice.”
What’s your view of the photo and the reaction: should the firm have avoided the composite, did people overreact, or something else?
How do you assess the firm’s response? What else, if anything, should the firm leaders do to improve its image?
What persuasive strategies do the attorneys use in their open letter? Which are most and least effective for the situation?