Four years ago, the Managing Partner Diversity Collaboration was created in response to the embarrassingly low number of minority lawyers in Grand Rapids. In 2010, a study found Grand Rapids had only 1.77% minority partners in local law firms. Ouch. The MPDC brainstormed a plan. Programs were created in local grade schools to generate interest and talent in law, a new website went up with the purpose of showing off Grand Rapids as an appealing place to live for young professionals. But today, the percentage of minority partners is still only 2.89%. It's gone up by only 1% in four years. The MPDC has called their program the "long game", meaning they won't see much improvement for a while. Their focus is more on creating the environment for students of color to succeed. But perhaps there's more to it than that.
We have a great law school right here in Grand Rapids: Cooley Law. It was created to provide a quality legal education to students who couldn't afford to go to Yale or Harvard. Many of the professors at Cooley Law also practice at local law firms, providing a great network for students to connect with. But still, there's an alarming number of students of color who have graduated with lots of potential, applied to all the Grand Rapids-area firms, and never heard anything back. Not even a rejection letter. In the first year of MPDC, Cooley gathered 20 different African American graduates' resumes and sent them to various firms in the area. No response. It's puzzling and frustrating, especially when those firms are supposedly wanting to become more diverse.
So why aren't firms hiring these prospects? It could be traditional hiring practices, in which firms recruit the top students from the top schools, hire them as unpaid interns, groom them and train them and hire the best of them as lawyers after graduation, favor students from wealthy families. Many minority students can't afford to work unpaid or go to top schools, and many need to have part-time jobs in addition to attending law school. Another reason could be that firms have a biased opinion of Cooley Law School, and prefer to hire from the Ivy League schools. Either way, there's a definite discrepancy in what firms are saying about diversity and who they are hiring. There has been minimal improvement, and as firms continue to recover from the recession, that improvement may go up. But there must be a better answer than what we are seeing right now.
Read more about Cooley Law School here.