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The Rooney Rule: Are Law Firms Punting on Diversity?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

You don't have to be a football fanatic to know what it means to punt.

If you know what the Rooney Rule is in football, however, you might know more about hiring in football than in the law. In a nutshell, the rule is the practice of considering minorities for coaching positions in the National Football League.

Now put that rule to work at BigLaw and you're in the game. That's the idea anyway at thirty law firms that say they will consider at least two women or attorneys of color when hiring or promoting.

"Mansfield Rule"

In the legal profession, the Rooney Rule is being called the Mansfield Rule after Arabella Mansfield. She was the first woman admitted to practice in the United States.

"It has been demonstrated again and again that diverse teams make better decisions," said Fenwick & West managing partner Kathryn Fritz in a statement to The American Lawyer. "While we aspire to create those teams everywhere, including and especially in leadership, it is also well documented that unconscious bias clouds our best intentions."

She said the Mansfield Rule will help turn good intentions into actions. "But will it actually improve law firm diversity?" asks Above the Law.

The rule might actually be a punt; that's when a team kicks the ball because it hasn't made enough progress toward the goal.

Token Measures

Tracy A. Thomas, a professor at the University of Akron School of Law, says the Rooney Rule is seen as a success in football. But in law firms, she calls it a "token measure."

Writing for the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, Thomas says it is time to consider quotas for women in law firms. She says "quota" is a dirty word in the United States, but it is also a viable means to change systemic discrimination.

"It's time to consider more effective, systemic, and long-lasting remedies of gender quotas," she writes. "A quota remedy would require gender parity -- proportional representation of women in positions of power."

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