The legal employment market suffers from imperfect information. Law students considering large law firms don’t have enough information about their future employers. And much of what they DO have is of very low quality. Firms exploit this lack of accurate information to sell their diversity and work/life programs with questionable claims.
One way Building a Better Legal Profession tries to combat this problem is with a ‘Most Transparent’ and ‘Least Transparent’ chart, which looks at how New York firms performed on billable hour and pro bono reporting. But here’s a case study on how NOT to sell your diversity program, courtesy of Fish & Richardson:
Earlier this month, Fish & Richardson had the following claim posted on its website: “Multicultural Law ranked us in the top one-third of their 2007 ‘Top 100 Law Firms for Diversity’ list.” The claim was the very first bullet point of achievement on Fish’s “Diversity” page — a place where law students and clients considering the firm would inevitably look to see success in attracting and retaining talent from diverse backgrounds.
We at b.b.l.p. looked up Multicultural Law‘s website, and found that Fish & Richardson was indeed ranked number 33. That’s good. We also saw that the list was sorted in alphabetical order. . . . That’s bad.
Fish & Richardson was ranked 33 because their name starts with the letter F, not because it was more diverse than firms 34-100. Akerman Senterfitt shouldn’t be #1 just because it starts with the letter A, and Fish shouldn’t be #33 just because it’s earlier in the alphabet than Winston & Strawn.
We called Fish & Richardson to inquire, and the firm was so embarrassed it changed its website to remove the “top one-third” designation. (Too late: we still got the screen shot.) Although even now I really question why the firm continues to list being on the Top 100 as an achievement, since a) there’s no description of how the list was compiled, see below, and b) Fish doesn’t really need some dubious rankings to show their achievements: based on our rankings, the firm actually does quite well on several diversity indicators in the Boston region.
But this is the problem – law students don’t have easily-accessible, high-quality information to make employment decisions with. Our rankings help remedy that situation. Using our reports, law students can now identify firms taking the lead on important issues, and by doing so, can send a message to large firms to improve their own organizations.
One more thing: Fish & Richardson shouldn’t make such claims, but Multicultural Law magazine may be the real culprit. The purpose of the magazine is “to serve as a vehicle for law firms to promote their diversity message.” Um … does that mean firms pay for the opportunity to be on a “Top 100 Firms for Diversity” list? If Building a Better Legal Profession bought an ad, could we be ranked #4 on the rankings, since our name starts with the letter B?
Our repeated phone messages to the magazine seeking comment were not returned. But you can check out their rankings here. Ask yourself: What data are they based upon? How did firms get themselves on the list? How did they decide that the firms should be ranked in alphabetical order?
And for you enterprising readers, which other firms tout this ranking as an achievement? Drop us an email if you come across something.