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October 29, 2007

Hiring by the numbers

There are very few things in the world that can make me defend the legal establishment, let alone large law firms, but I think I've found one.

According to Adam Liptak's column in the Times today, law students at Stanford have issued a grading system for firms based on what Prof. Michele Landis Dauber, who's the "adviser" for this project, delicately refers to as "diversity" -- or, in the cruder formulation of Mr. Liptak: "The students are handing out 'diversity report cards' to the big law firms, ranking them by how many female, minority and gay lawyers they have."

One firm, Herrick Feinstein, got an "F" and responded with its tail between its legs: "Herrick Feinstein said it reported that it had no openly gay lawyers 'because, at the time of the filing, we did not ask for that information.' There are, the firm said in a statement, openly gay lawyers working there, 'including one on the diversity committee.'"

Liptak quotes Vikram Amar for a sensible point:

Vikram Amar, a professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, added that law firms might well be violating employment discrimination laws in the process of trying to improve their rankings.
In other words, a firm doesn't like the "C" it received, so the next year, it makes a woman partner at the expense of a better qualified man. Sex discrimination right there.

Now, to get back to my opening. It's really hard to feel sorry for any of these folks: the spoiled brats at Stanford, the large law firms, the lawyers who are (or are not) discriminated against in these firms. But this isn't what one student calls it: forcing firms "to respond to the market pressures that we’re creating." It's a form of extortion, forcing firms to engage in employment discrimination.

You'd think the students at Stanford would have a clue about that. But if the experienced lawyers at the firms don't seem to, why should the students?