Identifying the Best Law Firms for Black Associates

There are several factors that black law students and lateral associates should consider when deciding which firms to apply to and whom to ultimately accept an offer from during recruiting season.

First, we must acknowledge the fact that there is not one uniform black experience and as such, there is not one set route to determining what the best firm may be for you.

The advice that follows assumes that you have already researched and considered the location, practice areas offered, compensation, professional development track and other factors that should go into a law firm job search generally.  You should give serious consideration as to whether you want to go to a large, mid-sized or small law firm.

Here are five strategies for deciding whether the law firms you are considering would be a good fit for you as a black associate:

  • Career Services/Career Coach – Reach out to the diversity liaison in your law school’s career services office or speak with a legal career coach about the general perception of the law firms you are considering.
  • Law School Professors – Law professors can be an excellent resource for information about the ins and outs of specific law firms, and they often have intimate details provided to them by former students and colleagues that career services professionals may not have.
  • Use Legal Diversity Resources – NALP, MCCA and Vault all have databases and surveys reporting on law firm diversity statistics and trends that you can consider as you do your research.  If you are a numbers person and want to review potential trends (i.e. African American associates at the firm all leave after the 3rd year or most of the firm’s diversity comes from lateral recruiting), this may be the strategy for you.
  • Bar Association Networking – Utilize local bar associations, specialty bar associations and organizations such as the National Bar Association and the National Black Law Students Association Alumni Association to speak to lawyers and law students about general perceptions at the law firms.  If there are mentoring programs available, speak to a mentor about how to make an informed decision as well.
  • Go Straight to the Source: Contact former and current associates at the firm, as well as the firm’s diversity manager.  Ask to go out for coffee and try to pick their brains about the culture of the firm and about their specific experiences.   Ask questions about black associates’ experiences with assignments, promotion, and professional development.  Also, look at the leadership at the firm.  Are there black partners at the firm?  Counsel?

Keep in mind that all of the responses you receive will be biased in some way or the other, and that another person’s experience may not mirror your own should you accept a position.   I would suggest utilizing several of these strategies to make an informed decision about which firm is best for you as a black associate.

Paula Edgar is a lawyer, career services professional, pop culture commentator, speaker and writer.  Follow her on Twitter at @paulaedgar or visit her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/paulaedgarfanpage.

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