Women, Minority Lawyers Make Small Gains

By Paula Bernier

Women and minorities are making small and slow gains at major American law firms, according the National Association for Law Placement.

In 2016 women made up 22.13 percent law firm partners at major U.S. firms. That number was 21.46 percent in 2015.

Meanwhile, women occupied about 45 percent of major law firm associate positions last year. That number was 44.68 percent in 2015.

Both of these years mark a decrease from 2009, when women represented 45.66 percent of associates at major American law firms. The New York Times in a Jan. 4 story noted that was the year law firms began to be impacted by the economic crash.

As for minorities, they made up just 8.05 percent of partners in 2016. That’s as compared to 7.52 percent in 2015.

Minorities accounted for 22.72 percent of associates in 2016. That share was 22 percent in 2015 and 19.67 percent in 2009.

The National Association for Law Placement’s Report on Diversity at U.S. Law Firms attributes the increase in minority lawyers largely to the growth in the number of Asian lawyers. This group makes up 11.25 percent of associates and 3.13 percent of partnerships. That’s as compared to 9.29 percent seven years ago, and 2.2 percent in 2009, respectively.

The representation of African-Americans, meanwhile, was at 1.81 percent for partnerships in 2016. That’s a small increase from the 1.77 percent it was at in 2015, which was only a slight increase from the 1.71 percent way back in 2009. Meanwhile, this group accounted for 4.11 percent of associates last year, which was an increase from the 3.95 percent it was sitting at the previous year.

“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,”NALP Executive Director James Leipold said. “And, while the relatively high levels of diversity among the summer associate classes is always encouraging, the fact that representation falls off so dramatically for associates, and then again for partners, underscores that retention and promotion remain the primary challenges that law firms face with respect to diversity.”

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