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Law Firms Experience Small Gains in Minority and Women Representation, According to NALP’S Latest

The National Association For Law Placement (NALP) recently released its latest demographic findings concerning women and minority representation in law firms. The study looked at representation across four categories: associates, partners, summer associates, and lawyers overall. Although these increases in both women and minority representation in law firms have been on a steady upward trend, the gains have been marginal and there is still much to be done.

Beginning with summer associates, since 2000, the percentage of minority law school graduates has ranged from 20% to over 25% and women have accounted for 46% to 49% of graduates. Although summer associate numbers in the categories of women and minorities are still below what they were in 2009, the numbers of women in summer associate positions are still reflective of women law school graduates as a whole. In 2014, women comprised of 46.33% of summer associates, minorities accounted for 30.27%, and minority women accounted for 16.63%.

In addition, the numbers of women and minority associates in law firms has finally increased since the drastic decline of 2009. From 1993 to 2009, sixteen years, the percentage of women had increased from 38.99% to 45.66%, and during the same time period, minority associate numbers went from 8.36% to 21.63%.  Even the numbers of women and minority partners have seen small increases across the nation. Since 2009, the number of women and minority partners increased by 1.84% and 1.28% respectively. Nonetheless, the gains in partnership diversity have, again, been slow, and representation among women and minorities has only had small gains since the study began in 1993.

With respect to lawyers overall, representation of all women was up by about seven-tenths of a percentage point and is now higher than that of 2009, at 33.48%. Nevertheless, since the overall figure for women fell in 2010 and 2011 the percentages for women are only one-half of one percentage point higher than in 2009. For minorities, representation rose to 13.83% in 2014. Many of these increases can be attributed to the rise of the number of staff attorneys and of-counsels at law firms who, in 2014, accounted 13% of attorneys at these firms.

One of the most striking aspects of the NALP study revealed how the patterns of representation vary by geography. The analysis for the forty cities with the most lawyers revealed considerable variations in measures of racial and ethnic diversity. Representation of women among partners ranges from about 12% in Salt Lake City, and Northern Virginia to 28% in Denver, and more than 25% in Detroit, San Francisco, and Seattle. Percentages for minority partners range from less than 0.5% in the Raleigh-Durham area to a high of 29.48% in Miami. With respect to the largest cities, with more than 900 partners, Los Angeles and San Francisco showed the highest representation of women, minorities, and minority women among both partners and associates. While these findings, in some respect, reflect the population as a whole in the area, minority representation within law firms does not always reflect minority representation of the general population in the area. NALP’s Executive Director, James Leipold, commented on the gains saying, “It’s good to see the numbers heading in the right direction again….” Indeed the increases are encouraging, but, as Mr. Leipold further expressed, law firms need to be more transparent about their numbers. Leipold said, “[a]lso individual law firms should not be allowed to hide behind national figures.”

NALP also reported on the representation of lawyers with disabilities. This information is not widely reported, however, the data available suggests that partners with disabilities are scarce; with about one-third of 1 percent of partners reported as having a disability in the three most recent years. Likewise, associates with disabilities account for just 0.28% of associates in law firms.

Although the increases are small, we should still celebrate the gains in women and minority representation. Studies such as this one keep the legal community as a whole accountable for increasing diversity, and as long as we continue making strides together we can make the legal profession a better profession for lawyers and lay people alike.

Summarized from Diversity Numbers at Law Firms Eke Out Small Gains –Numbers for Women Associates Edge Up After Four Years of Decline by Judith Collins For NALP, Febrary 15, 2015.

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