Rumblings of racism at a famous civil-rights law firm highlight the lack of diversity at the firms that are supposed to fight for the oppressed

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Lawsuits brought by the firm Sanford Heisler Sharp, whose clients have alleged sexism at Qualcomm, Sanofi-Aventis, and several major law firms, routinely make headlines.

But this week Sanford itself fell under the microscope, with former legal assistants saying the firm turned a blind eye to senior lawyers who made racially and sexually charged comments.

Law360 reported that, over the summer, groups of paralegals and lawyers signed letters to the firm’s leaders that alleged two partners called George Floyd a “thug,” made fun of Asian names, joked about porn, and told a Latino legal assistant he dressed like he was “in a gang.” One unnamed lawyer who spoke out reportedly said that Black people shouldn’t hire the firm.

David Sanford, the firm’s chairman, said in a statement that an investigation had cleared the partners of racial and sexist motives, and said the firm had implemented new training and made changes to “minimize the likelihood of future insensitivities.”

The allegations were shocking, but some plaintiffs’ lawyers and law-firm vendors said it wasn’t the first time they’d heard allegations of racism and sexism emerging from firms whose clients are often victims of prejudice. One potentially contributing factor is a lack of diversity at many plaintiffs’ firms.

Read more: An inside look at how Big Law firm Perkins Coie built up a diverse attorney base, winning major clients like Microsoft and Intel

Discussions of diversity in the legal industry tend to focus on the “Big Law” firms with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in revenue that mostly represent big businesses. But in the plaintiffs’ bar, whose lawyers style their clients as Davids against Goliaths, positions of power and influence are also disproportionately held by white men.

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“It’s hard, even at the biggest law firms, to recruit and retain a diverse workforce,” said Subodh Chandra, who runs a six-lawyer civil-rights firm in Cleveland, “but it is even harder in smaller plaintiffs’ shops because at the entry level, [lawyers] tend to be paid significantly less.”

The plaintiffs’ bar is a big tent, covering solo practitioners who represent car-crash victims and firms with dozens or hundreds of lawyers working cases with billions of dollars in potential damages over claims like securities fraud and medical-device defects. The only things that unite them are a tendency to represent parties listed to the left of the “v.” in the name of a lawsuit and the widespread use of contingency fees.

It’s less concentrated than Big Law, with its members spread out across more firms. The biggest plaintiffs’ firm may be Morgan & Morgan, a personal-injury-focused firm with 585 lawyers on its website. Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, a top investors’ law firm, lists 88 partners. Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, which played a lead role in cases against Volkswagen over its emissions-cheating scandal, lists just 46 partners.

By comparison, there were five Big Law firms with more than 1,000 partners last year, according to The American Lawyer.

Some surveys of the plaintiffs’ bar have found it lacking in racial and gender diversity. Law.com reported

Source:: Businessinsider – Finance

      

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