Retaining Color

It is no secret that large law firms are struggling in their efforts to retain attorneys of color. This is despite two decades of aggressive tracking of demographic rates, mandates from clients to improve demographic diversity, and the implementation of a variety of diversity efforts within large law firms. In part, law firm retention efforts are stymied by the reality that elite, large law firms require some level of attrition to function properly under the predominant business model. This reality, however, does not explain why firms have so much difficulty retaining attorneys of color — in particular black and Hispanic attorneys. And yet, there may be a relatively simple and low-cost set of incentives that law firm management and the legal profession can put in place to encourage black and Hispanic attorneys to remain at large law firms at higher rates. This Article draws on traditional theories of “the firm” and modern day understandings of workplace discrimination and applies them to the retention problem in large law firms. It argues that by incentivizing equity partners in large firms, who are overwhelmingly white males, to instill greater loyalty in black and Hispanic attorneys, firms can solve a large portion of their retention problem. As equity partners invest more time mentoring black and Hispanic attorneys, they will develop a sense of loyalty to the firm that will decrease the speed and frequency that attorneys of color exit the firm. Firms can then begin Retaining Color.