🙌🏿 Where Black lawyers are thriving after leaving Big Law

As the legal industry reckons with its diversity problems, a few Black lawyers shared with Law.com how they have navigated the hurdles presented by Big Law. For them, success happened when they left for small and midsize practices or in-house roles. 

  • The culture at Big Law is infamous for its homogeneity: Black lawyers comprise about 3% of total lawyers at large firms and less than 2% of partners.  

  • Billing rates are often a challenge for Black lawyers: Without the same levels of mentorship and sponsorship white associates receive, Black associates sometimes struggle to land the major clients needed for large firm rates.

  • Smaller firms often solve that problem: Esuga Abaya, who works at a five-person corporate firm in Philadelphia, said after he left Big Law for a boutique practice he interacted more with existing clients and was given the time and opportunity to build his own base of new clients, many of whom are Black entrepreneurs. 

The potentially better opportunities don’t always make the move easy 

Merle Vaughn, who left a big firm after graduating from Berkeley Law, noted that changing career paths can feel like closing a door or giving up prestige. “It’s a hard thing for Black lawyers to come to grips with, especially because you go to the best schools, you do well, you get into a big firm,” she told Law.com.  

The Verdict

Boutique firms and companies hiring in-house attorneys should use their strengths to create the diverse atmospheres many Big Law firms have long failed to cultivate. Abaya noted that Big Law could be dealing with an “exodus” of attorneys.