“You don’t look like a lawyer”: Blacks account for less than 1% of the lawyers in large law firms

1% dos advogados (3)

Note from BW of Brazil: Realisitically, who could really be suprised by today’s headline and story? The area of law is considered an elitist career, and as black Brazilians have only in recent years begun to frequent colleges and universities in large numbers, it should actually be expected that careers such this and Medicine are still fields where we will find few black faces. It should also be expected that this is an area where social contacts and networks are key to one’s success. And again, as black Brazilians don’t have decades of experience in Law, the current generation can’t expect help from aunts, uncles, cousins or friends who have been employed in the field for years. It’s like no matter where they are, or their social class, it’s difficult for Afro-Brazilians to be able reach out and find support that can help them climb the social ladder.

In an article from a few years back, we saw that even in the favela slums, their whiter counterparts still carry an advantage in poverty as they are more likely to have access to certain networks that largely don’t exist for their darker counterparts. So, is it any wonder that someone can that “you don’t look like a lawyer?” Media images continue to portray black folks in a certain way and the real-life prestigious areas of employment are in fact dominated by persons with white skin. 

Chapa Avança OAB - Bahia
Branch of the OAB, Brazilian Lawyers Guild in Bahia. Bahia is the state with the largest concentration of black people 

Blacks account for less than 1% of lawyers in large firms

By Thiago Augustto

Where are the blacks in law? According to the 2018 Legal Census, black lawyers account for less than 1% of the legal body in large firms. This group is comprised of junior, full, senior lawyer positions and the partner in the firm. Research by the Center for Studies of Labor Relations and Inequalities (CEERT), made in partnership with the Legal Alliance for Racial Equity and FGV Direito SP, shows this contrast.

Of all workers that work in firms, only 19% are black, 10% are women and 9% are men. The survey also indicates that 11% of white employees in companies are partners, that is, they occupy a leading position in the company. The number of blacks, however, in these leadership positions, does not even reach 1%. Among the positions related to advocacy, there are only a significant number of blacks in traineeships – 9%.  Another piece of research that stands out is how the opportunity appears. According to the survey, 36% of blacks become aware of job vacancies on the Internet, while one of the main ways for whites to become aware of job opportunities is through friends or relatives.

1% dos advogados
Graph 17 Proportion of the Workers Selected, According to Current Position by Color/Race Trainee – Partner – Senior Lawyer – Full Lawyer – Junior Lawyer Total – Women – Men – Black – White Source: Aliança Jurídica pela Equidade Racial/CEERT, Cneso Jurídico – 2018 Note: Black race/color = pretos (blacks) + pardos (browns) + indigenous. White color/race = brancos (whites) + Asians

Despite being the majority of the population, Brazilian citizens classified by IBGE as black are still far from having a prominent place in the labor market. Faced with this information, the Portal Notícia Preta website heard a black lawyer to comment on this disproportion. Check out below the interview with lawyer Derik Roberto, who is civil area coordinator at the DRD Advogados firm and a specialist in private law at the Fundação Escola da Defensoria Pública do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro Public Defender’s School Foundation).

1% dos advogados (2)
Lawyer Derik Roberto

Notícia Preta: Doctor, Derik Roberto, the 2018 Juridical Census concluded that black lawyers account for less than 1% of the legal body of leading law firms in the country. What do you think of that? 

Derik Roberto: “It doesn’t cause me any astonishment, it only explains a certain occasion when one acquaintance let slip out that I didn’t look like a lawyer. Unfortunately, this data makes me agree with her, the law firm has a face and it is not similar to mine, we have different colors. Since we are talking about numbers, it is interesting to note that, on the other hand, the data collected by Infopen (Integrated System of Penitentiary Information) indicate that 64% of the prison population is black. Judging by this data, in the understanding of my acquaintance, I look more like what?”

NP: Why is that number so low?

DR: “In my view, there are two factors that add up: black lawyers feel discouraged to participate in these selective processes; and recruiters prefer to hire lawyers who have more of an “firm profile”. That is to say, the lack of representation generates even more lack of representation. How does this work? On the one hand black lawyers feel discouraged when they notice that the vacancy he craves, it seems they are not occupied by people similar to him. The few blacks that are there are in numbers so low that when he signs up for the selection process the feeling is similar to that of playing the lottery, it is known that the chance of success is very rare. On the other side, those in charge of the selection process in these large firms imagine it is better for their business to have someone with a “lawyer’s face.”

NP: What is it like to be a black lawyer in that context?

DR: “An act of resistance. It’s having to show every day the carta de alforria (letter of freedom) that today is more modernized, it is a red card with a photo of you and with the acronym “OAB” (Brazilian Lawyers Guild), however, because you do not correspond to the stereotype of lawyer Harvey Specter (of the series SUITS) some people question whether you really are good. I get calmer because I know I am (laughs).”

NP: Doctor, the survey also points out that 11% of white employees are partners. As for blacks, there is not a significant amount, not even senior lawyers, full or even junior. What do you think of that?

DR: “When I founded DRD Advogados along with my brothers and now partners, we knew it would not be easy. But just these recurring cases of people who literally dedicate themselves to a life in the firm hoping to make a career out there, but are eventually thrown out before the promotion ends up encouraging us to open our own firm. These cases of people who are discarded, is not exclusively that of the black lawyer, it happens to white lawyers as well, however, if it is difficult for a black person to be a hired, we can deduce which would be the first head to be eliminated if he were inside.”

NP: The survey also revealed that 36% of blacks know about job openings on the Internet, while one of the main ways that whites inform themselves about job opportunities is through friends or relatives. The question is, are the opportunities different?

DR: “Without doubt the opportunities are different. The internet is a way of making access to this information available when there are places available, for example. However, we know that the recommendation puts your resume in front of others, in this case it is curious and noteworthy that approximately 99% (ninety-nine percent) of the vacancies are filled by white lawyers, who, because they are in the firm, have the first contact when a job opens, so it is a common situation to point out some relative (also white) to the job and keep things within the standards they find.

NP: Do you believe that the process of recruiting in law firms needs to improve?

DR: “I would not say it needs to improve, but be made conscious. I make it a point to clarify that the recruitment service of professionals contemplates a science which is not my domain of knowledge, so I must pay tribute to those who have it. However, when you have contact with a study that points out that black lawyers account for less than 1% of the legal body of nine of the largest firms in the country, it’s necessary as a recruiter of these law firms to awaken awareness and ask what is happening and the importance of representation in their businesses.”

NP: Do you feel represented by lawyers who appear in advertisements, office communication campaigns? Do you think there could be a greater inclusion of blacks?

DR: “I don’t feel represented. As we can see, the number of black lawyers in the firms is small. So, if there is already the difficulty in having access to these places, it is easy to conclude that the blck person will hardly be chosen to be the “face of that office”, is not it? Certainly there could be a greater inclusion of blacks in these spaces. Feeling represented matters a lot, not only to allow you to dream and create new possibilities for the advogado negro (black lawyer), but also to understand who you are and all you can do. It is important to see black people occupy more prominent spaces so that the feeling of belonging gains more and more profiles each day, with all its complexity, within our society.”

NP: the research also points to a salary difference between the black lawyer and the white lawyer. What about that?

DR: “In a country with a legacy of slavery and that is not well resolved with its scars, since some even deny this event in our History. It doesn’t shock me that a black lawyer earns less than a white lawyer, so when you realize that big firms don’t give you so many opportunities, it’s normal to end up being content with smaller wages. But this is a reality that we need to change urgently.”

Source: Notícia Preta

About Marques Travae 3225 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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