Tales of Diversity: What Lawyers Say About Racial Equity in Private Firms

41 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2006

See all articles by John M. Conley

John M. Conley

University of North Carolina School of Law


This paper reports on what a narrative study of the legal profession has revealed about diversity in private law firms. Since 1995 I have taught a course about the legal profession that revolves around interviews with lawyers representing the breadth of the legal profession. Over nine iterations, I have completed over 100 such interviews. They have yielded narratives on such topics as how various kinds of practice groups work, how legal careers evolve, how lawyers' professional and personal lives interact, how lawyers feel about their profession, and what they believe are their most difficult moral and ethical challenges. The topic of diversity in various practice settings has also figured prominently in most of the interviews. All of the lawyers interviewed have expressed enthusiasm for diversity as a value to be pursued. However, almost without exception, private-firm lawyers have admitted that their respective organizations have made unsatisfactory progress. When asked to analyze their firm's performance, most provide explanations that do not augur well for the diversification of the private bar in the near future. Their narratives implicate as causal factors the history of individual firms, the nature of intimate business associations, the profession's dominant hiring and promotion models, and, in most cases, the absence of external pressures to diversify.

Suggested Citation

Conley, John M., Tales of Diversity: What Lawyers Say About Racial Equity in Private Firms. Law and Social Inquiry, 2006; UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-5. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=887421

John M. Conley (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-8502 (Phone)

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