Minority law firm representation up modestly post-recession

Women and minorities have made small gains in representation in the legal community over the last seven years, though their representation in some areas of the legal profession is still below pre-recession levels, a new national report says.

According to the National Association for Law Placement Inc.’s 2016 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, the number of minorities working as associates at law firms has increased from 19.53 percent in 2010 to 22.72 percent in 2016. Those gains follow recession-related layoffs in 2009, when 19.67 percent of associates were minorities.

The most significant growth among minority associates has been the increase in the number of Asian associates, who now account for more than 11 percent of all law firm associates in NALP’s Directory of Legal Employers. The percentage of Asian associates has continuously inched upward and has risen nearly 2 percentage points to 11.25 percent over the seven-year period, according to the report released just after the new year.

Likewise, Hispanic associates have also experienced modest growth in representation, rising from 3.89 percent in 2009 to 4.42 percent in 2016. Aside from small dips in 2010 and 2013, the growth in Hispanic associate representation has been consistent.

By contrast, representation of black associates has been steadily declining, down to 4.11 percent in 2016, still below 2009 numbers. With the exception of modest growth from 3.95 percent in 2015 to 4.11 percent in 2016, the number of black associates has consistently fallen each year since 2009, when 4.66 percent of associates were black, according to the report.

Similarly, representation of women in law firm associate positions is now 45 percent, down from 45.66 percent in 2009. Like black associates, the number of female associates fell more often than not during the seven-year period, but did experience modest gains in 2014 and 2016.

In Indianapolis, NALP’s report shows 48.57 percent of associates in 2016 were women, while only 10 percent were minorities.  Minority representation among summer associates in Indianapolis was slightly higher, with minorities accounting for 30 percent of summer associates and women accounting for 50 percent in 2016.

In nearby larger cities such as Chicago, the report shows 44.69 percent of associates in 2016 were women, fewer than in Indianapolis, but 20.37 percent were minorities.

Representation of minority women associates was significantly less in both cities, with that demographic group accounting for 5 percent of all Indianapolis associates in 2016, compared to 11.21 percent in Chicago.

“While it is encouraging to see small gains in most areas this year, the incredibly slow pace of change continues to be discouraging,” NALP Executive Director James Leipold said in the report. “Minority women and Black/African-American men and women continue to be the least well represented in law firms, at every level, and law firms must double down to make more dramatic headway among these groups most of all.”

In the realm of law firm partners, the representation of women and minorities is less overall, but growth has been more consistent across all ethnicities.

Black partners, for example, now account for 1.81 percent of all partners, up slightly from 1.71 percent from 2009.

Women partner were not statistically affected by recession-related layoffs and instead experienced growth each year between 2009, when they accounted for 19.21 percent of all partners, and 2016, when they accounted for 22.13 percent.

In Indianapolis, roughly 23 percent of all partners in 2016 were women, while minorities represented a little less than 3 percent.

Similar to the situation with associates, Chicago law firms employed fewer female partners than Indianapolis in 2016 – roughly 22 percent – but more minorities at 7 percent. Only 1.17 percent of Indianapolis partners were minority women, compared to 2.34 percent in Chicago.

Aside from growth among ethnic minorities, NALP’s report also shows that the number of openly LGBT attorneys more than doubled from 1,100 in 2002, when such statistics were first tracked, to 2,431 in 2016.

The full report can be read here



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