Being a POC in Big Law

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Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 12:01 am

While there are POC (or URM) that can break into Big Law, most do not stay. A firm in NY is going to be different than one in TX, but the legal profession is mostly white, and in the sought-after Big Law positions, it is even greater. *Minorities in other senses are definitely included in this (aka coming from at most a middle-class family, non-Christian, sexual orientation, immigration status, etc.), but there seems to be a lot of focus, and yet not much change, on bettering ethnic and racial diversity.

This is going to be a laundry list of questions, but hopefully this thread won't be labeled just strictly a "URM" thread that is irrelevant to legal employment.

For POC attorneys on TLS:
- What advice do you have for summer associates in evaluating a law firm and getting positive attention from partners? (aka invitations to partner dinners that isn't organized within the summer program)
- What do you think of criticism that summer associates and junior associates do great work, but don't "fit"?
- How do you respond to out-right racist comments (e.g. racial slurs) or, at the very least, problematic ones (e.g. saying a black woman's hair looks "messy")?
- Do you have any advice on assimilating to these spaces while juggling the stress and work of being a junior associate?
- How do you recommend finding mentorship opportunities within your firm and outside of it? *I realize that many programs assign mentors to summer associates and later junior associates, but formalized mentoring programs may not be useful.
- Despite firm differences, how do you recommend finding resources to help you get work as a junior associate?
- Do you think it is essential, if you want to stay at a firm long-term, to have a mentor who is a white man in a position of power?


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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:37 am

Fwiw, I am not a URM but I am a female who has worked in heavily male-centric fields for the entirety of my professional career. I am also white but "ethnic" enough that my DNA tests at 20% middle eastern (lol)--essentially, just saying that I don't fit in with the traditional white Anglo Saxon upper crust crowd at all.

My advice to you would be to learn how to take everything in stride. The world will not cater to you or your feelings. It is up to you to learn how to react. If you are working in a firm where you are not being treated how you feel you should be, go work somewhere else. It's just the way things are. My old job was one of those Old Boys' Clubs, but with older Jewish men. If you were Jewish you were getting a promotion and if you weren't you were pushed out. I didn't cry about it. I simply moved on.

Not everyone will like you for one reason or another, whether you are short, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, tall, rich, poor, etc. You either pay them no mind or you move on.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 9:11 am

It's always fun when someone comes in and demonstrates why the op specified desired responses from POC lawyers and not the community at large. Op I would maybe ask this in the forum dedicated to this. I'll respond later when I can look at your laundry list of questions

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 9:16 am

One thing I've noticed as a summer associate is the lack of URM attorneys at big law firm offices of 100+ people, and the fact that they are usually junior. From what I have heard and seen, it seems like a lot of URM attorneys jump ship earlier than others and leave big law altogether. For figuring out which firms aren't as bad as others, I think it'd be good to feel out a firm by asking people in affinity groups at your school.

Instead of saying "get over an actual, systemic problem that is making brown and black attorneys leave big law altogether" I have some advice (as a summer associate):

0. Know why you want to be in big law (e.g. debt, prestige, need work experience for another job) and figure out how to last 3-5 years. You can focus on lateraling once you become a junior associate, but you're likely not going to get a huge change in environments.
1. Your work should be perfect.
2. Be aware of who you click with and those you don't. Don't bother trying to force what just won't happen. *One way to figure out if a firm wants to be inclusive (or those who you could rely on) as a summer associate is to see who takes the time to get to know you at summer associate events, e.g. "Oh, that's interesting that you know x language."
3. Never say no to any invitation, and provide a lot of face time.
4. Look for minority attorneys at your firm, and try emailing them to learn about their experience at the firm.
5. Try and get involved with whatever group matches your intersectionalities or affinity affiliation.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 9:37 am

There are many POC in the legal profession around the world, including many POC partners in big law offices. In some countries, the offices only have POC (and only POC can be licensed in those countries). Just do some googling.. don't be discouraged.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 10:31 am

Anonymous User wrote:There are many POC in the legal profession around the world, including many POC partners in big law offices. In some countries, the offices only have POC (and only POC can be licensed in those countries). Just do some googling.. don't be discouraged.


So the solution is to emigrate elsewhere? lol

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:04 am

I don't agree with the your work should be perfect sentiment. That's the road to bad things. You get too much work with way too little actual training to literally be perfect. The key is to do your absolute best, minimize mistakes, and learn very quickly from mistakes. Thinking that you can be perfect is unrealistic and unhelpful


Edit: and it's one reason why we burn out quickly--we think (probably rightly) that there's extra scrutiny on our work. Well you just have to come to terms with that and accept that it's not worth killing yourself to prove something to these people. Do your best job and leave it there

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby jacketyellow » Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:15 am

Anonymous User wrote: My advice to you would be to learn how to take everything in stride. The world will not cater to you or your feelings. It is up to you to learn how to react.


This is the exact reason why OP didn't want WASPs responding to this post because it is always a "get over it" attitude from those people. You tend to lecture other minorities about how to respond to situations. You may take this as criticism, but you should walk a day in our shoes.

OP, PM me; I can give you some insight. I'm in Biglaw right now.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:31 am

Oh please.

BigLaw associates are working in an industry where you earn 180,000 dollars a year for being a glorified paper pusher and doing ramped up document review.

If someone says your hair looks messy, maybe your damn hair does look messy. Not everything is a micro aggression or an affront to the very existence of your being. I am so tired of this.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:36 am

Anonymous User wrote:Oh please.

BigLaw associates are working in an industry where you earn 180,000 dollars a year for being a glorified paper pusher and doing ramped up document review.

If someone says your hair looks messy, maybe your damn hair does look messy. Not everything is a micro aggression or an affront to the very existence of your being. I am so tired of this.


Who could have predicted these sorts of responses?

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 12:06 pm

Dominican/Puerto Rican here. I have to agree with the general advice to take things in stride. What is the alternative as an SA or young associate? Lash out, change the system as an SA, admonish old-boy partners when they aren't being sensitive? I don't think any of these options would end up benefiting OP or POC in general. Taking things in stride (at least the way I am using it) does not mean letting people abuse you. Rather, it means not focusing on every perceivable micro-aggression. This field is filled with highly-strung, intense individuals. Taking things in stride (to me) means not taking every harsh interaction personally. People have told me I look at life with rose-colored glasses. Maybe they are right, but I am happy and have thus far been successful.

Edit to add more responsive advice: Sorry, I don't have advice about whether you need a white mentor to get ahead as I am just starting. Also, have yet to experience overt racism at work/SA (maybe why its easier to say "take it in stride"). But I do think having as much facetime with colleagues is important. Do all the social events/ be sociable. In biglaw, being no-offered for fit involves some seriously messing up in social situations. I know two of my classmate where no-offered (both white women), and they both have absolutely no social filter.

jacketyellow wrote:
Anonymous User wrote: My advice to you would be to learn how to take everything in stride. The world will not cater to you or your feelings. It is up to you to learn how to react.


This is the exact reason why OP didn't want WASPs responding to this post because it is always a "get over it" attitude from those people. You tend to lecture other minorities about how to respond to situations. You may take this as criticism, but you should walk a day in our shoes.

OP, PM me; I can give you some insight. I'm in Biglaw right now.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby blerggggg » Wed Feb 21, 2018 12:24 pm

Anonymous User wrote:. I am also white but "ethnic" enough that my DNA tests at 20% middle eastern (lol)--essentially, just saying that I don't fit in with the traditional white Anglo Saxon upper crust crowd at all.


Lol are you for real? quit while you're ahead becky

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby NoChainz » Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:56 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Oh please.

BigLaw associates are working in an industry where you earn 180,000 dollars a year for being a glorified paper pusher and doing ramped up document review.

If someone says your hair looks messy, maybe your damn hair does look messy. Not everything is a micro aggression or an affront to the very existence of your being. I am so tired of this.


Not sure why this is anon.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 2:07 pm

I recently left a big firm in DC.

I was on a fairly large lit team. There was an upcoming gauntlet of depositions, 3 weeks in 3 locations where we needed to send an associate out to each location to do them. This was a great opportunity for 3 associates to get really good deposition taking experience.

7 midlevels/juniors on the team. The 4 associates left out were the only 4 minorities on the team. Other than that, there was no logic to choice (didn't go to the 3 most senior members, or the 3 associates with most experience on the team, or most experience taking depos, etc.) I'm not going to say it was overt/intentional racism because the sample size just isn't significant. But I will say that I wasn't the only person who noticed.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby AppraisalWaisal » Wed Feb 21, 2018 2:09 pm

blerggggg wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:. I am also white but "ethnic" enough that my DNA tests at 20% middle eastern (lol)--essentially, just saying that I don't fit in with the traditional white Anglo Saxon upper crust crowd at all.


Lol are you for real? quit while you're ahead becky


lol. becky, you're making us look bad.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby AppraisalWaisal » Wed Feb 21, 2018 2:11 pm

jacketyellow wrote:
Anonymous User wrote: My advice to you would be to learn how to take everything in stride. The world will not cater to you or your feelings. It is up to you to learn how to react.


This is the exact reason why OP didn't want WASPs responding to this post because it is always a "get over it" attitude from those people. You tend to lecture other minorities about how to respond to situations. You may take this as criticism, but you should walk a day in our shoes.

OP, PM me; I can give you some insight. I'm in Biglaw right now.


Post an answer anon? I think a lot of people could benefit from your answers.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 3:09 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Oh please.

If someone says your hair looks messy, maybe your damn hair does look messy. Not everything is a micro aggression or an affront to the very existence of your being. I am so tired of this.


What the hell is wrong with you, do you think this is the worst discrimination POC face?

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby jd20132013 » Wed Feb 21, 2018 3:18 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Oh please.

If someone says your hair looks messy, maybe your damn hair does look messy. Not everything is a micro aggression or an affront to the very existence of your being. I am so tired of this.


What the hell is wrong with you, do you think this is the worst discrimination POC face?


ironically, that brave anon has made our point for us.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 4:50 pm

jacketyellow wrote:
Anonymous User wrote: My advice to you would be to learn how to take everything in stride. The world will not cater to you or your feelings. It is up to you to learn how to react.


This is the exact reason why OP didn't want WASPs responding to this post because it is always a "get over it" attitude from those people. You tend to lecture other minorities about how to respond to situations. You may take this as criticism, but you should walk a day in our shoes.

OP, PM me; I can give you some insight. I'm in Biglaw right now.


How can I PM you? I don't see that option on here? I've sent PM's before but for some reason, I don't have that option available anymore. Am I missing something?

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:01 pm

I think the best way to succeed as a POC at a firm is to go to a firm that really does value diversity, in markets where being a POC is not as big of a deal. I've worked at V5 firms in NY, Boston and in Silicon Valley. There are certain firms in SV that really, really do have a ton of POC, make POC partners, and where being a POC is just super-normal.

In Boston, there are constantly firms that reach out to affinity groups, but it turns out that they have ONE or TWO POC in the the entire office. This is not going to be an environment where it's easy to succeed.

I'm not saying move to CA, but I am saying--look at the headshots of the firm, especially the partners. Firms that _actually_ care about diversity are going to _actually_ elevate POC to partnership or senior roles. Firms that have issues are not going to have many POC. Yes, it's a chicken and egg thing, but you don't need to be the person who breaks the color barrier. You want to go somewhere you feel comfortable and have mentors. This matters.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Lacepiece23 » Thu Feb 22, 2018 12:53 am

Anonymous User wrote:Oh please.

BigLaw associates are working in an industry where you earn 180,000 dollars a year for being a glorified paper pusher and doing ramped up document review.

If someone says your hair looks messy, maybe your damn hair does look messy. Not everything is a micro aggression or an affront to the very existence of your being. I am so tired of this.


Cool post dude. Maybe I should hide my nappy hair because I’m
sure it looks messy to you.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 22, 2018 2:22 am

Anonymous User wrote:I think the best way to succeed as a POC at a firm is to go to a firm that really does value diversity, in markets where being a POC is not as big of a deal. I've worked at V5 firms in NY, Boston and in Silicon Valley. There are certain firms in SV that really, really do have a ton of POC, make POC partners, and where being a POC is just super-normal.

In Boston, there are constantly firms that reach out to affinity groups, but it turns out that they have ONE or TWO POC in the the entire office. This is not going to be an environment where it's easy to succeed.

I'm not saying move to CA, but I am saying--look at the headshots of the firm, especially the partners. Firms that _actually_ care about diversity are going to _actually_ elevate POC to partnership or senior roles. Firms that have issues are not going to have many POC. Yes, it's a chicken and egg thing, but you don't need to be the person who breaks the color barrier. You want to go somewhere you feel comfortable and have mentors. This matters.


I second this. Every firm pays lip service to diversity, few actually walk the walk. I've been at two biglaw firms so far in my career, at both I was the only non-East Asian POC associate in the office. And I'm not talking about tiny 20 person offices, either. At times it can be very isolating.

I'm not claiming there's active discrimination or anything like that. The reality is, though, that people naturally like those who are similar to themselves, who share common experiences and cultural backgrounds. Not everyone who is of the same race/ethnicity/etc. is going to be willing to be your mentor and go to bat for you, but the chances go up. And it's crucial to have someone like that at your firm.

OP, to answer some of your other questions:

I think you're probably safe as a summer associate. At least at the places I've been, those making the hiring (or not-hiring) decisions for SA -> Full Time are very cognizant of diversity-related issues, plus most firms go above and beyond to keep all summers involved in thing. I think it's much more common for POC attorneys to not "fit" as actual attorneys, even with great work, an element of which is certainly unconscious discrimination. That's the way it is, and I'm not sure there's much we can do to fix that.

I have never encountered an outright racial slur, but I have had a few eyebrow raising comments. You kind of have to just let it slide if it's not over the top. That's the reality of being a trailblazer, unfortunately. At least that's how I deal with it, but to be honest, they're relatively few and far between as most biglawyers are relatively self-censoring.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 22, 2018 1:22 pm

I'm a senior associate and female POC who is interested in remaining within biglaw long-term.

- What advice do you have for summer associates in evaluating a law firm and getting positive attention from partners? (aka invitations to partner dinners that isn't organized within the summer program)


Some of these points will be very difficult to evaluate for summers, but these are some of the key issues. Many will be easier to assess at the first-year associate level.

Evaluating a law firm for all associates: look to quality of work (both at junior levels and how quickly this improves through time); associate morale; partner and firm investment in associate professional development; early and frequent access to client contact; quality of exit options, especially if you don't intend to do the partner grind

Additional points of interest to minority and/or female associates: consider diversity of firm population (particularly promotion into senior ranks); firm's efforts to improve retention and promotion numbers; how much substance there is to firm diversity initiatives, affinity groups, etc. Importantly, evaluate whether minority and female associates have the same access to powerful partners and key clients as their white male counterparts *performing a similar quality of work.* Difficult to do, but especially where there is greater POC/female attrition, evaluate whether there is a racial/gender component to that attrition (you'll need to work on forming close relationships, or make the effort to meet people who feel able to speak freely (e.g., post-departure), to try to get at this information).

Getting positive attention from partners: figure out which partners' practices you are interested in and approach them to learn more. Consider doing some background reading on their key cases/deals. Ask substantive questions about their legal work and business development efforts. Ask how you can be involved as a summer and how you would be involved as an associate. See if there are shadowing opportunities (client meetings, deal closings, court hearings, depos, etc.) Don't expect to make an impression as a "rockstar" summer, necessarily (this is not really a thing in biglaw.) Just lay the seeds for impressing as an associate.

I have never heard of a summer being invited to partner dinners outside of the summer program, and I don't think this should be a focus for you.

- What do you think of criticism that summer associates and junior associates do great work, but don't "fit"?


This hasn't arisen in my personal practice. I have seen associate work product is evaluated fairly at all levels and that diverse summers and juniors are included socially without concerns about "fit." The social challenge is at the senior levels, with respect to senior partner and client social contact. There are no perfect answers, but as in-house counsel ranks are diversifying at a faster rate than law firms (at least anecdotally), it is becoming easier to form those social ties to in-house counsel. In fact, you will find many in-house counsel (in my urban coastal market) agitating for diverse, inclusive case/deal teams or explicitly stating they wish to give key opportunities to diverse attorneys.

In short: you may find yourself questioning, at times, whether you have been excluded from some things based on your identity, and if you are a high-performing POC, you will also likely be offered opportunities in part based on your identity. You may feel conflicted about both of these things. This is a tricky, transitional time to be a diverse attorney in biglaw, but it is improving from what it has historically been.

- How do you respond to out-right racist comments (e.g. racial slurs) or, at the very least, problematic ones (e.g. saying a black woman's hair looks "messy")?


I have never been privy to an outright racist comment in biglaw, and I have been at more than one firm. I have unfortunately heard numerous overly sexist comments, and it's a balancing act to decide when and whether to respond. The only racially "tinged" comments I can remember hearing are variants of, "We want to enhance our diversity but the problem is that we can't lower our standards." I usually call these comments out.

That's as much time as I have now. Will try to continue later.

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Re: Being a POC in Big Law

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 22, 2018 1:32 pm

Do you think it is essential, if you want to stay at a firm long-term, to have a mentor who is a white man in a position of power?


Senior associate/female POC again - realized I could knock out this question quickly.

For long-term success in biglaw, it is essential to have a "sponsor" - a powerful partner at (or close) to the top of the firm hierarchy who believes in you and will champion your career, both as to client opportunities and promotion to partner. Sponsors are, at present, disproportionately white and male.

However, they need not be. At my first firm, one of the most important litigation sponsors was a trailblazing female first-chair trial lawyer and rainmaker. It was incredibly empowering for me to watch her in action - and to see both male and female junior and mid-career lawyers look to her as their champion.

Even if the key sponsors at your firm and in your practice group are white men, that does not mean you will necessarily be excluded from the table as a POC associate - although I understand why that could be nervewracking. My advice is simply to fight to build a sponsorship relationship with one or more of them. You will find that at least some top-tier white male partners are actually quite available to serve as your sponsor - whether because they simply pick the best associates to sponsor without discriminating, or because they are overtly committed to advancing diversity at the firm and thus seek out high-performing diverse associates to support. Even if their current mentees are all white men, do NOT assume they will not sponsor/mentor you unless you try to form this relationship and fail.

However, if you determine that all of the relevant sponsors are white men, they are only sponsoring other white men, *and* your efforts to form a sponsorship relationship with them are going nowhere, you will need seriously to consider lateraling elsewhere to advance in biglaw.



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