Vault and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association recently released a report analyzing the results of our annual Law Firm Diversity Survey. Amid some encouraging signs of progress, the study reveals other, more troubling trends. Not only are there sharp contrasts between the advancement of white lawyers and attorneys of color, there are notable disparities among different minority groups.
Some of the key findings are noted below:
Law firms employ fewer black lawyers now than they did eight years ago. One of the most disturbing trends is the decline in the number of African-American lawyers. In 2007, African-Americans represented 3.6% of law firm attorneys; by the end of 2014, that number had dropped to just over 3% (3.05%). The causes seem to be twofold: fewer black lawyers are being hired and they are leaving their firms at a disproportionate rate.
While law firm equity partners are still predominantly white and male (more than 75% are white men), the newer ranks reflect greater diversity. One-third of all new equity partners in 2014 were either female or members of a minority racial/ethnic group. Attorneys of color now represent 7.5% of all equity partners, the highest percentage since Vault and MCCA began collecting this data.
Law firms are becoming less monochromatic—but at a very slow pace. Minority lawyers now represent 15.0% of the attorneys at surveyed firms, compared to 13.8% in 2007. Incoming associate classes, however, are more diverse. For example, minority law students represented approximately 29% of the 2014 class of summer associates, compared to 26% back in 2007.
Asian attorneys are less likely to be partners than either African Americans or Hispanics. Nearly 11% of law firm associates are of Asian descent, the highest figure reported in the last eight years. But just 3% of partners are of Asian descent. In other words, there is just one Asian partner to every three or four Asian associates. In contrast, there is one African-American or Hispanic partner for every two black or Hispanic associates. White men are the most likely to be partners, with two white male partners for every three white male associates.
The number of Latino lawyers, relative to their overall U.S. population, remains lower than that of other minority groups. Although Hispanic and Latino attorneys have made the most consistent gains in the last decade, they remain underrepresented compared to other minority groups. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States (17.4%, compared to 13.2% for African-Americans and 5.4% for Asians) but the least represented in law firms: 3.4% of law firm attorneys are Hispanic, compared to 3.1% for African Americans and 6.7% for Asians.
Women are making steady inroads into the partnership ranks. Female lawyers have represented a little more than one-third of law firm attorneys for the last eight years. They now represent 21.3% of all law firm partners, a number nearly 3 percentage points higher than the 18.5% reported for 2007. Although they are still more likely to be income partners than equity holders, almost 19% of equity partners (18.8%) are women.
Vault and MCCA have conducted this survey for more than 10 years, amassing a wealth of demographic data about law firms and the attorneys they employ, including their race, gender, LGBT identity and disability status. Approximately 250 law firms take part in the survey each year, including virtually all of the Vault Law 100 and the Am Law 100, along with dozens of regional law firms. The latest findings are based on responses to the 2015 survey, in which 247 law firms participated, providing demographic statistics as of December 31, 2014.
For more survey findings, including data for other racial groups, LGBT attorneys and individuals with disabilities, download a copy of the complete Vault/MCCA Survey Report. And if you’d like to see the information reported by individual law firms—including the law schools and job fairs where they recruit, their part-time policies (and the number of attorneys who actually take advantage of those policies), mentoring and career development initiatives—visit the Law Firm Diversity Database or click on the diversity tab on the firm’s Vault.com profile.
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