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03/29/07

Diversity is a mixed bag in the law firm world


'Diversity' has always been the in-thing in all law firms, size notwithstanding. The trend, unabashedly profiteering, seems to have, of late, taken law circles by storm.

From putting up promotional websites that promise minority attorneys the moon to forming committees, groups, partners, mentors, and other programs, large law firms have revealed their designs on the minority and women lawyers in its true hues to please the Fortune 500 or similar clientele. History reveals that lack of diversity costs one law firm a top-notch client like Wal-Mart.

However, despite all that brow sweat and ink, a meager five percent of partners at firms are minorities, revealed Minority Law Journal (yet-to-be-released) 2006 survey. The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) figures isn't too promising either. Besides this five percent, women lawyers make 18 percent at these law firms. While only 13 percent constitute minorities among the total workforce in the 20 highest-grossing firms in Washington, DC, partners make a measly six percent. Law firms Howrey and Latham & Watkins have the highest percentage of minority attorneys at 18.3 percent of all ranks. However, the percent of minority attorneys at law firm Wiley Rein decreased to seven percent last year. In the partner-level, Howrey leads with 10.3 percent followed by Akin Gump with 9.3 percent.

There are firms like Allen & Overy which recruited nearly 50 percent women, 17 percent ethnic minority, and students from 34 different universities in 2005-2006. Diversity may augur disunity, which the firm fears, and hence it strives to maintain a cohesive atmosphere within the firm as well as its work force. It gives everybody, irrespective of personal standing, an opportunity to prosper and also fulfill their potential.

Firms also adopt various strategies to achieve their targets. These strategies can be classified into three broad categories. Firstly, firms need to increase awareness levels regarding diversity within the firm as well as its impact on the working environment. Secondly, partners have to be committed to adopt the mentors' roles for encouragement and sustaining of the firm's diversity drive. Finally, individual endeavors to remove personal prejudices should be encouraged to create an all-inclusive working environment where everybody prospers together.

Meanwhile, on the flip side, some others have different views, too. Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, in his paper titled "The Legal Implications of Complying with Race and Gender-based Client Preferences" questioned whether corporates can legally pressurize law firms to hire on their diktat. He presented the paper at an American Enterprise Institute program held in Washington recently. Levey supported his contention with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits the use of race, creed, or color when considering candidates for a job. He argued that owing to clientele pressures, law firms form legal teams of a particular racial composition which can expose them to discrimination lawsuits. The Committee for Justice promotes the appointment of "constitutionalist" judges. Levey maintained that his paper was "independent of his current position."

Finally, none of these would work in isolation. Each of these factors adds to the law firms' success in bringing together a team diverse in nature and united in efforts.

Sullivan & Cromwell numero uno among M&A deal advisors
With 33 deals worth a combined $162.9 billion, New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell is number one among top global deal advisors. The firm beats Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom to annex the global M&A crown. This was revealed in Mergermarket's global mergers and acquisitions league table declared for the first quarter of 2007.

The firm achieved the coveted target within the first three months of this year which also includes two of the quarter's five largest M&A transactions. Skadden, last year's top M&A firm finished seventh this year with $85.8 billion deals. Sullivan's victory march was also aided by the advisory credits on deals such as the $44.2 billion private equity takeover of TXU. Sullivan was followed by Davis Polk & Wardwell with $149.4 billion of global deals on the second spot and Hunton & Williams with $106.8 billion in the third.

On the other hand, volume-wise Latham & Watkins took the top spot with its 67 deals globally. The firm's overall volume of transactions was equal to Jones Day (67 deals), though value-wise Latham amassed $56.8bn to Jones Day's $17.5bn. Sullivan is placed at the 12th rung with 33 deals on record.

The global M&A activity, according to Mergermarket report, for 2007 and till March 22, stands at 2,200 deals and worth $690bn. A vast majority of this amount comes from North America where "activity is up 13% over the same period last year." Mergermarket expects more activity in the next quarter with private equity investors becoming more active this year.

Mergermarket is an independent Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) intelligence service. It publishes regional league tables of top financial, legal, and PR advisors at every quarter of a year.

BIZARRE NEWS

Panty-pilferer caught
What would you steal if you were a thief? Money, valuables, cars? Meet Garth M. Flaherty, 24, who stole 93 pounds of women's lingerie. Flaherty stole 1,500 pieces of undergarments from apartment complex laundry rooms, according to AP reports. There was enough `itsy-bitsy' in his bedroom to fill five garbage bags, Tennant said. Police had received at least 12 different reports of missing undergarments in the northeast region (near Washington State University). Flaherty was caught when a witness reported his license number. He was later identified from a photo. He is charged with 12 counts of second-degree burglary and one of first-degree theft. What does he say in his defense? "I have a problem". As if; we never would have guessed.

Latham & Watkins LLP.

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