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Copyright (c) 1996 California Law Review
California Law Review

ARTICLE: Why Are There So Few Black Lawyers in Corporate Law Firms? An Institutional Analysis

Copyright 1996 California Law Review, Inc.

May, 1996

84 Calif. L. Rev. 493


David B. Wilkins +
G. Mitu Gulati ++


Although the number of black students graduating from law schools has increased significantly in recent decades, blacks still make up a very small minority of the lawyers working in large corporate law firms. Available data indicate that these firms hire few blacks, and that those they do hire are more likely than their white peers to leave the firms before becoming partners. Conventional explanations blame the underrepresentation of blacks in corporate firms on either the racism of firms and their clients, or a shortage of qualified, interested black candidates. While acknowledging that in some instances these factors may help to explain the problem, this Article looks behind them to examine institutional factors that tend to perpetuate the existing underrepresentation. Specifically, the Article shows how the ways in which large corporate firms recruit and train lawyers tend both to shield discriminatory choices between black and white candidates from any competitive disadvantage, and to discourage black law students and lawyers from investing in skills that will enable them to succeed within corporate firms. Thus, the Article argues, firms' hiring and training decisions both shape and are shaped by the strategic choices of black candidates, with the net effect of keeping all but a few blacks from being hired and succeeding in the firm setting. Finally, this Article explores the implications of these incentives for five commonly proposed tools for diversifying corporate law firms: anti-discrimination laws, race-neutral institutional reforms, diversity education within firms, demand-creation initiatives, and supply-side initiatives ...
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