Study finds black lawyers have less career mobility

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A study has found that black lawyers in America have less career mobility than lawyers of other races.
The study, recently highlighted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business, tracked the career moves of 1,400 lawyers from Heller Ehrman LLP, Thelen LLP, Thacher Proffitt Wood LLP, WolfBlock LLP, Dreier LLP and Morgan & Finnegan LLP - all of which were dissolved in 2008 and 2009.
“Our empirical analyses produce three key findings that are consistent with a race-based mobility advantage in legal careers,” wrote Christopher I. Rider, Adina Sterling and David Tan, who are from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, Stanford’s Business School and University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.
The first result is that following a law firm dissolution, “black lawyers were less likely to regain employment than white lawyers or lawyers who are neither white nor black.”
The authors added that “white partners were more likely to regain employment and black associates were least likely to regain employment.”
Furthermore, they found that “white lawyers were more likely to regain employment in the largest, highest-grossing, and most prestigious US law firms than lawyers of other races and blacks were less likely to do so than lawyers of all other races.”
Essentially, white lawyers were found to seemingly have the best prospects when it comes to moving to another firm compared to lawyers of other races while black lawyers appear to have the worst prospects in mobility.
The study followed the career moves of the lawyers from the six dissolutions because they note that it is rare for law firms of this size to dissolve, much less at around the same time, which opens the data to be treated as a mobility shock.
The authors noted that to build a similar sample of 1,400 transitions under normal circumstances, they would have needed to follow about 50,000 lawyers.
Meanwhile, the study also found that “black lawyers who regained employment were less likely to move with former co-workers than were white lawyers.”
How high up the ladder one is also determined whether the trend still held, the study which was included in the book “Diversity in Practice Race, Gender, and Class in Legal and Professional Careers” found.
“Moreover, this disadvantage is almost entirely concentrated in associate lawyers; there does not appear to be any difference between white and black partners,” the authors wrote.
The authors noted that they infer that black lawyers – primarily associates – face mobility constraints due to at least in part to the intra-organisational structure of work relationships.
“In other words, despite increasing diversity within the legal profession there may be systematic differences in lawyers’ opportunities to form valuable relationships with co-workers, especially the ones that provide access to inter-organisational opportunities,” they wrote.
“To the extent that co-mobility is indicative of a strong working relationship, black lawyers and especially associates seem less likely to possess the strong co-worker relationships that are so central to the generation of career opportunities,” they added.
The authors, however, caution that more study need to be done in the area and that their results should be carefully interpreted because the data does not include direct measures of co-worker relationships and the sample size is small.

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