Thursday, May 12, 2005

 

Dabbling in Dangerous Demographic Data Dissemination

In an impressive display of industriousness, at 10:37 tonight, Voloch Conspiracy managed to scoop a Law.com article dated May 13 (tomorrow) about a new database being created by "sixty major New York law firms" which will track the "race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation of each of their lawyers." According to the article, the database is a "client driven" initiative, "brokered by the New York County Lawyers' Association."

I find this somewhat perplexing.

First of all, isn't the basic information regarding law firm and partner composition already being tracked by big firms for recruitment purposes? As a second-year law student, I seem to recall reading all the diversity stats of the firms I was interviewing for . . . that is until it became too darn depressing.

What more do clients really need to know?

Apparently, they want to know how many gays, blacks and women are specifically billing to their matters. According to the article "law firms should not object to requests by their corporate clients [to] report the number of hours devoted to the clients' matters by minority lawyers."

Really? I kind of find it objectionable. Am I supposed to trust that corporate clients are so committed to feminist and anti-discrimination principles that they are going to be the diversity watchdogs for law firms? Can someone give me the empirical evidence to support that assumption?

Secondly, as someone who worked at a big firm for two years, I can tell you that none of the clients of my firm gave a rat's ass about my gender, race, or sexual orientation. Am I really supposed to believe that corporate clients are going to make decisions about what firms to hire based on the demographic make-up of a particular litigation team? I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone who cares about diversity would not have the poor taste to ask such a question. More likely, this information will be used by certain types of companies that would prefer not to have minorities, gays and women on their teams. But that's just my opinion.

Thirdly, what moral, economic or philosophical basis is there for requiring a firm to provide this type of specific information to a customer? I don't expect the telephone company to tell me the race and gender of everyone who works on my account (well, mainly that's because I can never actually get through to the phone company, but you get my point.)

I doubt that Microsoft or Verizon would bow to customer pressure to give out this type of specific information. To be honest, I have trouble believing they would expect to get it from law firms. Call me crazy, but I have a hard time believing this is a "client-driven" enterprise. Sounds like the kind of loony idea a bunch of lawyers would come up with.
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