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Diversity in Metro Detroit Law Firms Below National Average

The National Association for Law Placement ranks the metro Detroit region below the national average for diversity in law firms, according to Crain’s Detroit Business. Despite this, lawyers in the region say it is difficult to find and then retain minority attorneys.

The study was conducted in December of eight metro Detroit law firms and their 1,110 lawyers. Of that total, just 7.1 percent were minorities. The national average is 13.4 percent. Metro Detroit lags behind Washington, D.C (14.5 percent); Houston (14.6 percent); Atlanta (11.8 percent) and Baltimore (7.3 percent).

The managing director at Business Development Inc., Julie Savarino, “It’s pretty shocking, especially in a city as diverse as Detroit, that we’re lacking in the hiring of minorities. Many of the firms’ clients are Fortune 50 and Fortune 100 corporations who emphasize diversity; and law firms are getting pushed to hire more minorities, so it’s embarrassing that they haven’t accomplished this.”

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Damali Sahu is a partner from Bodman PLC in Detroit. Sahu is also the co-chair of the law firm’s diversity committee. Sahu pointed out that clients are asking for more diverse teams, but the lack of diversity in law schools is not helping.

“Michigan firms tend to recruit from local law schools … it’s not the case that you’ll find the broadest pool of applicants,” Sahu said.

In the fall of 2013, the law doctorate class at Wayne State University’s Law School was 16.7 percent minority, which was down from 17.7 percent in fall of 2012. At Thomas M. Cooley Law School, the class consisted of 28.3 minorities.

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“Because our clients are demanding a more diverse legal staffing, we have more competition; it’s not just the Michigan firms competing for that limited pool of diverse talent,” Sahu said. “It’s been challenging … we’ve had to deal with the issue of young, talented graduates leaving the state over economic concerns.”

Executive director of the NALP, James Leipold, said, “Keeping lawyers is always a challenge in Detroit. The most junior associate ranks are always the most diverse — and those numbers go down further up the ladder, but not because of the hiring or firing bias, but because diverse talent is heavily recruited.”

Bodman, and other law firms in the metro area, are working with the Wolverine Bar Association and other groups in an effort to recruit more minority lawyers into their ranks.

“It’s becoming more and more important that law firms focus on diversifying our ranks and get creative in accomplishing that,” Sahu said. “Maybe as the story gets out, and more people take notice, these numbers can change a bit.”

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