No Black Names on the Letterhead? Efficient Discrimination and the South African Legal Profession

Although there have long been black lawyers in South Africa, during apartheid only a handful joined the ranks of the country’s large commercial firms. Now, in the post-apartheid period, these firms are keenly aware of a range of economic and political incentives to hire black attorneys, and most are doing so at a record pace. Very few black attorneys, however, are enduring the path to partnership in these firms. Based on more than seventy-five interviews conducted in South Africa in 1999 and 2000, this Article both documents and critically examines the reasons for black attrition. While firms’ incentives to integrate include commercial ones associated with clients’ newfound attention to the racial diversity of their vendors, such incentives apparently have not yet outweighed the forces impeding integration-some of those forces being incidental to the country’s history and politics, some attributable to the institutional characteristics of law firms, others to the acts of individuals within those institutions. Although the underrepresentation of blacks in these firms is frequently attributed to blacks’ own failings or choices, Professor Pruitt argues that the lack of integration is also the result of discriminatory actions of white individuals and the institutions they run. Still building on the descriptive platform she has laid, Professor Pruitt goes on to construct a model of efficient discrimination with respect to South Africa’s elite legal sector, arguing that firms are able to survive in the new marketplace, even absent retention of black attorneys, because the power of the incentives to integrate does not match the rhetoric around it. In addition, because no firm is achieving integration and thereby taking advantage of existing incentives, no firm is raising the integration quotient, which would presumably challenge other firms to do the same.