Law firm diversity wobbles Minority numbers bounce back while women associates extend two-year decline

The latest NALP findings on law firm demographics reveal that law firms have made up some but not all of the lost ground after diversity figures fell in 2010. While the representation of minorities increased, more than making up for the decrease from 2009 to 2010, the overall representation of women declined slightly further in 2011 compared with 2010.

In 2011, the percentage of both women and minority partners in law firms included in the NALP Directory of Legal Employers was up by a small amount compared with 2010. Among associates, however, representation of women declined slightly for the second year in a row and for only the second time since NALP started compiling this information in the 1990s. The net effect was that, for lawyers as a whole, representation of women overall decreased by a tiny amount and the representation of minority women remained about flat. For minorities as a whole, representation was up slightly.

Minorities now make up 12.70 percent of lawyers reported in the NALP Directory of Legal Employers, compared with 12.40 percent in 2010. Just under one-third of lawyers at these same firms are women -- 32.61 percent in 2011 compared with 32.69 percent in 2010, both of these most recent years lower than the 32.97 percent mark reached in 2009. Minority women now account for just over 6 percent of lawyers at these firms -- 6.23 percent in 2011, comparable to the 6.20 percent figure for 2010, and lower than the 6.33 percent figure for 2009.

During most of the 19 years that NALP has been compiling this information, law firms had made steady, if somewhat slow progress in increasing the presence of women and minorities in both the partner and associate ranks. In 2011, that slow upward trend continued for partners, with minorities accounting for 6.56 percent of partners in the nation's major firms, and women accounting for 19.54 percent of the partners in these firms. In 2010, the figures were 6.16 percent and 19.43 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 of women had increased from 38.99 percent in 1993 to 45.66 percent in 2009, before falling back to 45.41 percent in 2010 and to 45.35 percent in 2011. Over the same period, minority percentages have increased from 8.36 percent to 19.90 percent, more than recovering from a slight decline to 19.53 percent in 2010.

Minority women continue to be the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level, a pattern that holds across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions. Minority women make up just over 2 percent of the partners in the nation's major law firms. At just 2.04 percent of partners in 2011, this group continues to be particularly underrepresented in the partnership ranks, despite a small increase from 1.95 percent in 2010. The representation of minority women partners is only a bit higher, 2.47 percent, at the largest firms of more than 700 lawyers. Minority men, meanwhile, account for just 4.52 percent of partners this year, up from 4.21 percent in 2010. At the associate level, minorities account for 19.90 percent of associates, up from 19.53 percent in 2010, and minority women account for 10.96 percent of associates, a tiny increase from 10.90 in 2010, and still below the 11.02 percent figure reached in 2009.

These are the most significant findings of NALP's recent analyses of the 2011-2012 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE), the annual compendium of legal employer data published by NALP.

"Last year, on the heels of the recession, we saw the figures for women and minority associates dip for the first time since NALP began tracking lawyer demographics at law firms. The 2011 figures reveal that a year later, while the figures for minority associates have bounced back, the overall number of women associates actually declined further. This is a significant finding," said James Leipold, NALP's executive director. "As law firms work to redouble their diversity efforts in the wake of the widespread layoffs in 2008 and 2009, we might have expected the representation of women and minorities among associates to bounce back together, but that is not the case. The newest data suggest that the temporary set-back for minority representation has been reversed but that the representation of women among associates has continued to trend downward. The loss of women has slowed, but at a time when far too few women make up the partnership ranks of US law firms, this is not a trend that can be ignored," Leipold concluded.

The representation of women and minorities in the summer associate ranks compares 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-2000s. Women comprise 47.71 percent of summer associates, minorities 27.11 percent, and minority women 15.19 percent of summer associates in 2011. In fact, these percentages exceed overall percentages for law school graduates and are higher than for 2010, even as the aggregate number of summer associates remained relatively steady compared with 2010, and off by over 40 percent compared with 2009.

Analyses for the 44 cities with the most attorneys represented in the directory reveal considerable variations in measures of racial/ethnic diversity. Representation of women among partners ranges from between 14 and 15 percent in Charlotte, NC, Northern Virginia, and Orange County, CA, to almost one-quarter in Denver, Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach, Hartford, Miami, and San Francisco. Percentages for minority partners range from less than 2 percent in Grand Rapids and Pittsburgh to a high of 23.91 percent in Miami.

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 7.66 percent. This contrasts with seven cities where minority women make up less than 1 percent of partners. Likewise percentages for women associates ranged from 35-36 percent in Orange County, CA and Northern Virginia, to about half in Hartford, Minneapolis, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tampa. For minority associates the range was from 7.18 percent in Cleveland to just over 37 percent in Miami. The range for minority women associates was from 2.46 percent in Birmingham to almost 20 percent in Miami.

Among the largest of these cities (those with more than 900 partners represented), Los Angeles and San Francisco show the highest representation of women, minorities, and minority women among both partners and associates. Minorities account for 12.19 percent and 11.79 percent of partners in these two cities, respectively, and women account for 19.28 percent and 24.72 percent of partners, respectively. Figures for minority women are 3.68 percent and 4.02 percent, respectively. Firms in Seattle and Washington, DC, also exceed national averages on most measures.

Among smaller cities, Miami and the San Jose area generally meet or exceed national averages. In Miami, women account for 24.22 percent of partners; minorities, many of whom are Hispanic, account for 23.91 percent of partners, and 7.66 percent of partners are minority women. Comparable figures in the San Jose area are 19.55 percent, 14.61 percent, and 4.04 percent, respectively.

In many other cities, the picture is considerably different: Cities that are below average on most or all measures and considerably so with respect to minorities include Birmingham, Charlotte, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Kansas City, Nashville, Northern New Jersey, and Wilmington. Numerous others, such as Boston, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Portland, OR, are at or above average with respect to women, but lag on minority representation. In still other cities, such as Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Raleigh, and St. Louis, only the percentage of women partners is at or above average.

These findings reflect in part considerable contrasts in the population as a whole in these areas. For example, according to recent population estimates from the US Census Bureau, the population of the Grand Rapids and Pittsburgh areas is only about 20 percent minority (that is, Hispanic or non-White.) In contrast, at over 70 percent Hispanic or non-White, the population of Los Angeles can be characterized as majority minority. But minority representation within law firms does not always parallel minority representation within the overall population of an area. For example, in the Charlotte area, almost half of the population is minority, but this diversity is not reflected among lawyers working in law firms in that city.

Among summer associates, minorities have the highest representation in Columbus, Miami, Portland, OR, Raleigh/Durham, and San Jose, where 40 percent or more are minority. Representation of minority women among summer associates is highest in Miami and the Raleigh/Durham area. (See Table 2 and Table 3 for the figures for individual cities and metropolitan areas, and for eight other states or geographic areas.)

The direction of change in the representation of women and minorities among partners in the aggregate from 2010 to 2011 has not been the case everywhere. Although exact comparisons with prior years are not possible because of variations in offices listing in the directory each year, a core consistency in office listings allows for some approximate comparisons. In the five largest markets represented in the directory--Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, DC--only in New York and Washington, DC did the representation of women and minorities among partners and associates increase at least somewhat. The other cities saw a mix of increases, decreases, and generally steady percentages. In none of these cities, however, were large changes noted; most of the differentials were much smaller than one percentage point.

The directory also collects information about lawyers with disabilities, though this information is much less widely reported than information on race/ethnicity and gender, making it much harder to say anything definitive about the representation of lawyers with disabilities. The information that is available suggests that partners with disabilities (of any race or gender) are scarce, with less than one-quarter of 1 percent of partners reported as having a disability, a figure that is essentially unchanged from that for 2010. Similarly, associates with disabilities account for a tiny fraction, just 0.17 percent, of associates in law firms, even lower than in 2010. 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. Disability figures for partners, associates, and all attorneys with disabilities are reported in Table 1.

The directory includes attorney race/ethnicity and gender information for almost 124,000 partners, associates, and other lawyers in 1,349 offices, and for over 5,300 summer associates in 765 offices nationwide. Information on disability status was reported for not quite 99,000 of these lawyers.

The 2011-2012 NALP Directory of Legal Employers, which provides the individual firm listings on which these aggregate analyses are based, is available online at

Published: Thu, Nov 17, 2011