July 1, 2017

Vault tells minorities to join shrinking and demographically stagnant firms

       The website Vault ranked O'Melveny & Myers as the third best law firm for diversity

       Below is a chart from Vault's own database showing the percentage of white male equity partners at O'Melveny over the last decade, along with the same information for the industry as a whole. While the rest of the industry decreased this number from 80% to 75% -- O'Melveny was stuck at 80%. (Which is especially bad when you realize its starting class was always about one-third white male. Imagine the number of prejudiced decisions required to consistently turn a 33% white male population into an 80% white male population.) This performance gets you third place at Vault.

       Out of curiosity I looked up Vault's second most diverse firm -- Fried Frank. They actually got worse over the past decade! Their partners used to be 79% white male but now it's 86%.

       I then looked up another Southern California firm, Gibson Dunn. They improved, and did so while growing their partner count by 25%, from 251 to 315 (unlike O'Melveny, whose partner count fell by 17%, from 209 to 173, and Fried Frank, whose partner count dropped by 25%, from 122 to 92.) But Gibson Dunn didn't even break into the top 25 of Vault's diversity ranking. So Vault advises minorities to join shrinking and demographically stagnant firms, instead of growing and diversifying firms? Thanks Vault.

       Please note I don't mean to attack white males; I guess technically I'm a white male under census definitions. But these percentages represent a large disparity when you realize this group is only 32% of the country. Still, at least the industry improved over the last decade. The problem is firms like O'Melveny and Fried Frank who refuse to change or, in the latter case, get worse. Why would Vault pick them as the most diverse?

       To make sense of this you have to look at Vault's methodology, which is based solely on a survey of existing Associates. In Vault's eyes, if a firm's existing Associates say it's diverse, then it's diverse. Nothing else matters. The same method is used for Vault's "best firm to work for" ranking, in which Fried Frank and O'Melveny also placed second and third. I don't know why these two firms receive such high scores from their Associates. I recall O'Melveny's partners heavily pushing these surveys with meetings, voice mails and emails. Perhaps it's a conditioned or fearful desire to please management. Perhaps they like things as they are. Perhaps it's something else. 

       Regardless, Vault knows this is a bad and easily manipulable way of assessing firms. That's why for its most widely read ranking, the "Vault 100" ranking, it uses a different method -- one that prevents Associates from rating their own firm. But in light of the power and impact of the legal profession, its decision makers' diversity of backgrounds and perspectives is also important. So Vault, please treat it as such.
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