Various Texas attorneys take the helm amid Big Law’s ‘gold rush’

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A group of Texas-based lawyers of color have been promoted to senior positions at major law firms this year as the Lone Star State sees intense competition and the industry’s diversity shortcomings come under fire. spotlights.

Lawyers such as Asher Griffin, co-director of the Austin office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, have been recruited to launch new outposts in Texas. Others, like Norton Rose Fulbright U.S. and Global President Shauna Clark, have advanced their company’s leadership ranks internally, setting historic firsts.

As companies and tech startups flock to Houston, Dallas, and Austin, companies are courting local talent and expanding their energy, technology, private equity, and intellectual property practices.

“There is a dramatic increase in the number of corporate offices that have moved to Texas, and I think this gold rush has brought more diversity,” said Jill Louis, 31-year-old senior corporate lawyer at Texas. She was promoted to Managing Partner in Perkins Coie’s Dallas office in February, less than a year after joining the firm from K&L Gates.

Other lawyers of color promoted to Texas Big Law this year include Christopher Porter, co-director of Quinn Emanuel’s Houston office, and Yvette Ostolaza, the new Dallas-based chair of Sidley Austin’s executive committee.

Most of these key promotions came less than a year after protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minnesota police, and a national racial inequality calculation has drawn more attention to the lack of diversity in large companies.

Law firms unveiled new diversity and inclusion initiatives to address gaps in hiring, retaining and promoting diverse talent. But progress has so far been limited, sparking skepticism from lawyers, including lawyers of color.

“The numbers don’t lie,” said Paul Stafford, chairman of the Texas State Bar’s African-American attorneys section and founder of Dallas-based majority-minority litigation boutique Stafford Law Firm. “Show me that you are really committed to diversity in a real way and hold these people, and maybe the skepticism and cynicism will dissipate. “

Black lawyers only make up 2.1% of law firm partners across the country, while Asian and Latinx partners make up 4.1% and 2.8% respectively, according to the most recent diversity report of the National Association of Law Placement.

The pipeline to the managing partner and other high-level positions in the firm is tightening for lawyers of color and even narrower for women of color.

Lively markets, opportunities

A multitude of the country’s largest law firms are increasingly looking to locate in Texas.

Quinn Emanuel founder John Quinn called the state capital of Austin a “booming city attracting the cream of America’s tech industry” in January, when the litigation firm opened an office there.

Quinn also continues to think about an office in Dallas. Meanwhile, Christopher Porter, co-managing partner in Houston, said the state’s largest city offers an increasingly diverse legal talent pool.

“We want an office that looks like the city of Houston,” Porter told Bloomberg Law.

Companies seeking to plant a flag in Texas often do so by poaching attorneys with close ties to the state. The low cost of living, changing demographics and the changing political landscape in the state’s largest cities are simultaneously attracting high-quality lawyers of color, according to Griffin.

He spent his first three years in Texas at the Baker Botts office in Houston, then at the Scott Douglass & McConnico litigation boutique in Austin, where he worked for 16 years before joining Quinn Emanuel. Griffin has handled a wide range of litigation, including in the areas of pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, private equity and intellectual property.

His twin brother Justin, partner of Quinn Emanuel in California, had long tried to recruit Griffin. It wasn’t until the company began to think about an office in Austin that Griffin contacted John Quinn himself about a move.

“Coming to the Austin office, I knew I wanted a leadership role because I’ve spent a lot of time in this city and I’m quite familiar with this market,” he said. “As businesses grow in Texas, there are many opportunities to identify diverse talent for leadership positions. “

Meet the moment

Ronald Kirk, Gibson Dunn’s senior attorney and Dallas’ first black mayor, told Bloomberg Law that Texas has long been home to diverse legal talent.

“I know too many lawyers who have worked in Big Law and who haven’t had the opportunity to lead,” he said. “Not everyone wants to, but we certainly have the talent, the experience and the breadth of knowledge to do it.”

Minority lawyers made up 16% of associates at law firms in Houston last year, up from 7% in 2010. Associates of color rose to 11% from 6% during the same period in Dallas, according to the reports. NALP data. But the gains were smaller for black partners, who made up 2% of Houston partners and 1% of Dallas partners in 2010. Over the past decade, they have only grown by 1% in both cities. .

Some see the recent increase in diverse talent as a long-awaited reward for advocacy from affinity organizations, such as those at the State Bar of Texas. Others attribute strong lateral and horizontal networks between lawyers of color in prestigious law firms, developed as the industry has diversified.

Kirk said the recent race for racial justice has pushed companies to recognize the talent of partners from historically neglected and marginalized backgrounds.

“I am convinced that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” he said.

“For people who have worked in companies for over 10 to 12 years, I think the timing, environment and receptiveness to seeing us as business leaders capable of running businesses and offices are better now than. ‘they haven’t been in the last 10 years. at 15.

Clark, who started her new role at Norton Rose in January, said her rise to the role of partner in charge of the firm’s Houston office ten years ago made her an anomaly at Texas Big Law. She was the only black woman in the office at the time.

“I didn’t fit the typical picture of what someone would expect the partner in charge of this great law firm to be,” she said. “I’m sure there were individuals who would have preferred to take this position in my place, but I was selected and rose to the challenge.

She credits her own talent and office managers who did not treat her any differently from her white male colleagues.

“I am absolutely convinced that the sponsors that I have had and have always played an important role in helping me reach the level I am at today.

Obstacles in the workplace

Clark acknowledges that her trajectory is unlike that of many other lawyers of color, or even black women, at Texas Big Law.

“I believe in Texas we are seeing more women in leadership positions,” she said. “What is less certain is whether there has been any significant improvement with black women taking on leadership roles.”

Stereotypes about the professional skills of women of color often hamper their professional trajectories, explains Tsedale Melaku, sociologist and author of “You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer”.

Melaku, who studies the experiences of black female lawyers, coined the terms “invisible labor clause” and “inclusion tax” to describe the invisible work and the additional resources marginalized groups use to navigate sexism and racism. , while ensuring fewer sponsorship opportunities.

“Black women and other marginalized groups don’t just face their real workload,” she said. “They have to worry about whether they are going to be mistaken for the paralegal or the secretary, or they have to remind someone that they are not that other black person.”

Stafford, the head of the state bar’s African-American affinity group, says companies lose talent if they don’t fight diversity attrition by providing career advancement opportunities.

“If you don’t give them the right amount of mentorship, workflow, or promotion to keep them, then you can’t keep them. “

“Collective progress”

Stafford is happy to see more women, people of color and LGBTQ people in leadership roles, but he’s not ready to give Big Law a pat on the back.

“When your numbers are excruciating, you have nowhere to go but to increase,” he said. “When you put a handful of people in these key places, it looks like a 100% increase because it is. “

Stafford said only about half of Dallas law firms were willing to provide information on lawyer diversity as part of an investigation this year.

He says it is incumbent on lawyers from under-represented backgrounds who have reached senior positions in these firms to lead the way for their peers: “Anecdotal successes are not a strategic plan for collective progress.

Jill Louis is the first black woman to lead Perkins Coie’s Dallas office in the decade since its launch. She wants to increase the number of women, people of color and LGBTQ people in the company and reduce under-representation.

“These people whose rise to leadership only benefits them, it is not an increase in diversity that will systematically increase diversity,” she said. “I want to be the type of partner I valued when I was a partner and encourage people of color and LGBTQ people to feel comfortable practicing at the highest level in a law firm.”

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