Law firm diversity among associates erodes in 2010, according to survey

The lastest Association for Legal Career Professionals (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% of lawyers at these law firms, compared with 12.59% in 2009. Just under one-third of lawyers at these same firms are women -- 32.69% in 2010 compared with 32.97% in 2009. Minority women now account for just over 6% of lawyers at these firms -- 6.20% in 2010 compared with 6.33% 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% of partners in the nation's major firms, and women accounting for 19.43% of the partners in these firms. In 2009, the figures were 6.05% and 19.21%, 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% of partners and women accounted for 12.27% of partners. Among associates, the percentage who are women had increased from 38.99% in 1993 to 45.66% in 2009, before falling back a bit in 2010 to 45.41%. Minority percentages had increased from 8.36% to 19.67% before dropping slightly to 19.53% 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% of the partners in the nation's major law firms. At just 1.95% of partners in 2010, this group continues to be particularly under-represented in the partnership ranks, despite a slight increase from 1.88% in 2009. Minority men, meanwhile, account for just 4.21% of partners this year, up from 4.17% in 2009. At the associate level, minorities account for 19.53% of associates, down from 19.67% in 2009, and women account for 10.90% of associates, down from 11.02% 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%, 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%. This contrasts with nine cities where minority women make up less than 1% 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% to 23%, while women have accounted for 46% to 49% of graduates, with the high point coming in the mid-2000s. Women comprise 47.35% of summer associates, minorities 26.99%, and minority women 14.92% 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%, 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% of graduates self-identify as having a disability.

Analyses for the 43 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 a low of 14.24% in Northern Virginia to a high of 24.23% in San Francisco. Percentages for minority partners range from a low of 1.77% in Grand Rapids to a high of 24.04% in Miami. These same two cities, along with Columbus, also anchor the range of minority women partners -- from a low of 0.18% in Columbus and 0.22% in Grand Rapids, to a high of 6.745% in Miami. Likewise percentages for women associates ranged from just over 35% in Orange County, CA and Northern Virginia, to over half in New Orleans, Portland, OR, Sacramento, and San Francisco. For minority associates the range was from 6.83% in Cleveland to almost 38% in Miami. The range for minority women associates was from less than 4% in Cleveland to about 20% in Miami.

Among the largest of these cities (those with more than 1,000 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 12.06% and 10.97% of partners in these two cities, respectively, and women account for 19.97% and 24.23% of partners, respectively. About 3.7% of partners are minority women in both cities. Firms in Seattle and Washington, D.C., also are close to or 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 22.51% of partners; minorities, many of whom are Hispanic, account for 24.04% of partners, and 6.74% of partners are minority women. Comparable figures in the San Jose area are 19.69%, 15.15%, and 4.20%, 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 Charlotte, Columbus Grand Rapids, Kansas City, Nashville, Northern New Jersey, and Wilmington. Numerous others, such as Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, 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 Birmingham, Cincinnati, Detroit, 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 19% minority. In contrast, the population of Los Angeles is 68% 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 the population is minority, but this diversity is not reflected among lawyers working in law firms in those cities.

Among summer associates, minorities have the highest representation in Denver, Houston, Miami, Milwaukee, Northern Virginia, San Jose, and Seattle, where one-third or more are minority. Representation of minority women among summer associates is highest in Miami and Northern Virginia.

Despite incremental increases in the representation of women and minorities among partners in the aggregate from 2009 to 2010, and the concomitant decrease among associates, this 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, D.C. -- only in Washington, D.C., did the representation of women and minorities among partners and associates generally hold steady. Offices in Boston went opposite the general pattern. In New York City, the percentage of women associates held steady, while representation of minorities among associates declined. In none of these cities, however, were large changes noted -- most of the differentials were much smaller than one percentage point.

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."

The 2010-2011 NDLE includes attorney race/ethnicity and gender information for just over 129,000 partners, associates, and other lawyers in 1,400 offices, and for over 5,400 summer associates in over 785 offices nationwide. Information on disability status was reported for just over 99,000 of these lawyers. It should be noted that all these counts are less than in the 2009-2010 Directory, with two factors at work that are not easily disentangled: reduced head count at individual offices and also fewer listings as firms opted to forgo a listing or consolidate listings in the current economic climate.

The 2010-2011 "NALP Directory of Legal Employers," which provides the individual firm listings on which these aggregate analyses are based, is available online at www.nalpdirectory.com.

Published: Tue, Nov 23, 2010

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