Roundtree Rule

WOMEN OF COLOR TASK FORCE: THE DOVEY ROUNDTREE RULE

The Women’s Bar Association announces the creation of the Dovey Roundtree Rule and is seeking law firms to pilot its implementation. Contact womenofcolor@wbadc.org for more information.

The Roundtree Rule, a third generation of the Mansfield Rule and Rooney Rule, will specifically target the advancement of women of color in law firms. The Rooney Rule, created in 2003, requires every NFL team to interview at least one minority candidate for head coach and front office vacancies. In an effort to diversify the legal profession, law firms adopted the Rooney Rule and also committed to interview more than one diverse candidate for positions within the firm. The Mansfield Rule, a winning idea from the Women in Law Hackathon, requires participating law firms to consider at least 30 percent women, LGBTQ and minority lawyers for significant leadership roles. The Mansfield Rule should be applauded for its efforts. However, as constructed, the Mansfield Rule does little to positively impact the number of senior and leadership roles for women of color.
 
The Roundtree Rule is designed to address this deficit. The Rule is named after Dovey Johnson Roundtree, the first African-American woman to become a member of the WBA. One of the most contentious yet important moments within the Association’s almost 102-year history occurred in 1962, when the WBA voted to “break the color barrier” and admit Dovey Johnson Roundtree. In the early 1960s, Roundtree was one of the few female litigators in the DC courts and, by all accounts, she was one of the best. Her friend (and future member of the federal bench), former WBA President Joyce Hens Green, nominated Roundtree for admission to the WBA. Judge Green has described the Board of Directors meeting at which Roundtree’s potential membership was discussed as “very clamorous.” She understood that the admission of a woman of color into the WBA would upset a sizable contingent of the Association (and beyond), but she pursued it regardless, knowing it was the right thing to do. After much debate and a close vote, Roundtree became a WBA member. As a result of these trailblazers, the WBA became an advocate for the success for all women lawyers. Thus, in line with this commitment we recommend the implementation of the Roundtree Rule to build upon the success of the Mansfield Rule and to ensure that women of color reap the benefits of its goals.
 
The goal of the Roundtree Rule is to ensure that women of color reap benefits comparable to those that white women have experienced with the institution of the Mansfield Rule. Our research and observations reveal the need to be more targeted, explicit, and purposeful in addressing the advancement of women of color.
 
Studies show that when grouping white women within the same group as ethnic minorities, white women will disproportionately benefit the most. Victoria M. Massie, White Women Benefit Most from Affirmative Action — And are Among its Fiercest Opponents, 2016, at www.vox.com/2016/5/25/11682950/fisher-supreme-court-white-women-affirmative-action (citing a 1995 report by the California Senate Government Organization Committee found that white women held a majority of managerial jobs (57,250) compared with African Americans (10,500), Latinos (19,000), and Asian Americans (24,600) after the first two decades of affirmative action in the private sector). See also, Taryn Finley, 4 Key Points That Debunk Misconceptions Around Affirmative Action, 2017, at www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/affirmative-action-still-matters_us_5981d9b6e4b0353fbb33e1bb (noting that more than 30 years after affirmative action was extended to include women, the percentage of female physicians jumped from 7.6 to 25.2 with white women benefiting more than women of color).
 
As the numbers reflect, white women have substantially benefited from diversity programs in the legal profession. We applaud and support these strides. The gains by women of color, however, pale in comparison. Our desire is to see significant advancement with respect to women of color as well, and the statistics show otherwise. In 1993, women represented 12.27%[1] of partners at major U.S. law firms. As of January 2019, white women now account for 20.17% of partners at major U.S. law firms. By contrast, in 1993, minorities accounted for 2.55% of partners and in 2006[2] women of color accounted for 1.48% of partners at major U.S. law firms.[3] As of January 2019, women of color now account from 3.19% of partners at major US law firms with 1.38% Asian, 0.77% Hispanic, and 0.68% African‐American.[4]  Moreover, in 2018, white women accounted for 23% of general counsels at Fortune 500 companies. By contrast, women of color accounted for 6% of general counsels at Fortune 500 companies, with 1.8% Asian, 1% Hispanic, and 3.2% African-American.[5]
 
In light of these stark statistics and to laser target this disparity so that the progress of diversity efforts in the legal profession reach all underrepresented groups in a more equitable way, the WBA encourages law firms and legal departments in the Washington metropolitan area (as well as national and global organizations with a significant Washington presence) to commit to a modified Mansfield Rule that would include the following: 
 
For each vacancy in leadership roles and other opportunities, the firm or corporate legal department will include women of color candidates, the greater number of: 1) at least two women of color; or 2) 20% of the eligible candidates. These leadership roles and activities include:
  • Equity Partner Promotions
  • Lateral Partner and Mid/Senior Level Associate Searches
  • Practice Group & Office Head Leadership
  • Executive Committee and/or Board of Directors
  • Compensation Committee
  • Chairperson and/or Managing Partner
  • Formal Pitch Opportunities
  • Supervisory In-House Counsel Roles
  • In-House Corporate Legal Operations/Chief of Staff Roles
  • Deputy General Counsel and General Counsel Roles
Descriptions and qualifications needed to obtain these positions should be documented and transparent. Also, there should be a tracking system in place to document the candidates considered and compliance with the rule.
 
Today, the WBA is a stronger organization because of its decision to admit Dovey Roundtree as a member of the WBA. The WBA remains a stalwart defender of equitable treatment for all people, regardless of race or any other characteristic. And nearly 60 years after Ms. Roundtree’s admission, the WBA has another opportunity to lead ground breaking work in the advancement and matriculation of attorneys of color by encouraging the adoption of the Roundtree Rule by Washington area law firms and legal departments.

Footnotes:
[1] NALP did not separately track gender and ethnicity in 1993. However, in 2006 when NALP started tracking this information women of color only represented 1.48% of partners at major U.S. law firms. Thus, it is safe to assume that the bulk of 12.27% consisted of white women partners.
[2] NALP did not start separating their data collection of gender and ethnicity until 2006.
[3] Women and Minorities at Law Firms — What Has Changed and What Has Not in the Past 25 Years, NALP Bulletin, February 2018 https://www.nalp.org/0218research.
[4] NALP 2018 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms (January 2019) https://www.nalp.org/uploads/2018NALPReportonDiversityinUSLawFirms_FINAL.pdf
[5] The statistics obtained for general counsels of fortune 500 companies, were provided by Jean Lee of Minority Corporate Counsel Association.