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3 Jan 2011

Major law firms hiring fewer women, minorities

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January 3, 2011 Category: Week In Review Posted by:



WASHINGTON – The latest NALP findings on law firm demographics reveal that the overall representation of women and minority lawyers in law firms declined between 2009 and 2010, likely a casualty of massive lawyer layoffs during the 2008-2009 recession.


In 2010, the percentage of women and minority partners in law firms across the nation was actually slightly higher than in 2009. Among associates, however, representation of women and minorities declined slightly, for the first time since NALP started compiling this information in the 1990s. The net effect was that, for lawyers as a whole, representation of both women and minorities declined slightly. Minorities now make up just 12.40 percent of lawyers at these law firms, compared with 12.59 percent in 2009. Just under one-third of lawyers at these same firms are women — 32.69 percent in 2010 compared with 32.97 percent in 2009. Minority women now account for just over 6 percent of lawyers at these firms — 6.20 percent in 2010 compared with 6.33 percent in 2009.


During all the prior 17 years that NALP has been compiling this information, law firms had made steady, albeit slow progress in increasing the presence of women and minorities in both the partner and associate ranks. In 2010, that slow upward trend continued for partners, with minorities accounting for 6.16 percent of partners in the nation’s major firms, and women accounting for 19.43 percent of the partners in these firms. In 2009, the figures were 6.05 percent and 19.21 percent, respectively.


Nonetheless, the total change since 1993, the first year for which NALP has comparable aggregate information, has been only marginal. At that time minorities accounted for 2.55 percent of partners and women accounted for 12.27 percent of partners. Among associates, the percentage who are women had increased from 38.99 percent in 1993 to 45.66 percent in 2009, before falling back a bit in 2010 to 45.41 percent. Minority percentages had increased from 8.36 percent to 19.67 percent before dropping slightly to 19.53 percent in 2010.


Minority women continue to be the most dramatically under-represented group at the partnership level, a pattern that holds across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions. Minority women make up less than 2 percent of the partners in the nation’s major law firms. At just 1.95 percent of partners in 2010, this group continues to be particularly under-represented in the partnership ranks, despite a slight increase from 1.88 percent in 2009. Minority men, meanwhile, account for just 4.21 percent of partners this year, up from 4.17 percent in 2009.


At the associate level, minorities account for 19.53 percent of associates, down from 19.67 percent in 2009, and women account for 10.90 percent of associates, down from 11.02 percent from 2009.These are the most significant findings of NALP’s recent analyses of the 2010-2011 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE), the annual compendium of legal employer data published by NALP. The representation of minority women partners is only slightly higher, 2.44 percent, at the largest firms of more than 700 lawyers. The newest NDLE also reveals that representation of minority women among partners varies considerably by geographic location, with firms in Miami reporting the highest level of representation, at 6.74 percent. This contrasts with nine cities where minority women make up less than 1 percent of partners.


Partners with disabilities (of any race or gender) are even more scarce. Though this information is less comprehensively reported than that on race/ethnicity and gender, just one-quarter of 1 percent of partners were reported as having a disability, a figure essentially unchanged from that for 2009.


According to NALP Executive Director James Leipold, “While the actual drop in the representation of women and minorities is quite small, the significance of the drop is of enormous importance because it represents the reversal of what had been, up until now, a constant upward trend. Prior to the recession law firms had struggled to recruit and retain a diverse workforce of attorneys, but there were small gains year after year which, over time, had begun to make a significant change in law firm workplaces. The reversal of that trend underscores how important it is for law firms to redouble their diversity efforts at this time.”


The representation of women and minorities in the associate and summer associate ranks compare much more favorably to the population of recent law school graduates. According to the American Bar Association, since 2000, the percentage of minority law school graduates has ranged from 20 percent to 23 percent, while women have accounted for 46 percent to 49 percent of graduates, with the high point coming in the mid-2000’s. Women comprise 47.35 percent of summer associates, minorities 26.99 percent, and minority women 14.92 percent of summer associates in 2010. In fact, these percentages exceed overall percentages for law school graduates and are notably up compared with figures from 2009, even as the aggregate number of summer associates was down by over 40 percent, reflecting smaller, and in some cases cancelled, summer programs.


Associates with disabilities, again information less comprehensively reported, account for a tiny fraction, less than one-quarter of one percent, of associates in law firms, again similar to figures for 2009. Although the presence of individuals with disabilities among law school graduates is not precisely known, other NALP research suggests that some 2 percent of graduates self-identify as having a disability.


According to Leipold, “The NALP data do not reveal the reasons that the overall representation of women and minorities among law firm attorneys went down in 2010, but it is likely that the recession, and the many lawyer layoffs that accompanied it, can be identified as at least one significant reason for this historic decrease. While recruiting efforts slowed during the recession, often dramatically so, the fact that summer associate representation among women and minorities remains at an historic high suggests that law firms have not back-pedaled on their commitment to bring in a diverse class. Indeed, even as smaller classes have been recruited, they have largely been diverse in composition. As was widely reported during the recession, however, lawyer layoffs disproportionately affected junior and mid-level associate ranks, and because these groups of lawyers were among the most diverse in law firms, it is likely that these layoffs contributed in significant measure to the lower overall percentages that we see in 2010.”

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