A 1975 study of diversity in law firms by the U.S. Equal Employment Commission revealed that African Americans employed as associates have lower odds of being promoted to partner. Because of the intentional and unintentional acts of discrimination that law firms engage in, African American associates often leave firms before becoming partners. In their Stanford Law Review article, Wilkins and Gulati (1996), have extended these findings and suggest that practices in hiring, training, and promotion systematically disadvantage Black males.
Even when firms implement diversity initiatives to hire and promote African American lawyers, the common practice is to hire African American males who can assimilate into the traditional white male culture of the firm. The line that they walk between maintaining their own culture and self-identity and assimilation is stressful because they are constantly judged based on their race and gender—being black and male. Weatherspoon (2010) reports that African Americans at law firms seek out other employment, worry about retention, and cite a dearth of work as the main reason for leaving the firm.
The institutional practices of law firms that involve racialized perceptions and differential access to social networks combine to build an invisible structure of differential opportunities based on race. Antidiscrimination law is often ineffective because white partners are not motivated by intentional discrimination. Diversity education and discrimination training are regularly bypassed by longstanding informal networks of power among influential partners (Wilkins & Gulati, 1996)..