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Law Firm Diversity Declines Slightly, and Layoffs May Be to Blame

Posted Nov 4, 2010 8:10 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Law firm diversity declined slightly this year, likely because of lawyer layoffs, according to a new study by NALP, the association for legal career professionals.

The decrease is the first in the 17 years that NALP has been compiling the information, according to a press release. NALP executive director James Leipold says the percentage drop is small but the significance is of “enormous importance” because it is a reversal of what had been an upward trend.

“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,” he says in the press release. Layoffs disproportionately hit junior and mid-level associates, among the most diverse groups in law firms.

Minorities now make up 12.4 percent of lawyers in law firms profiled in NALP’s Directory of Legal Employers, down from 12.59 percent in 2009. Women make up 32.69 percent of lawyers in the firms, compared to 32.97 percent in 2009. Just 6 percent of the lawyers are minority women, down from 6.2 percent in 2009.

Although the diversity numbers declined overall, the percentage of women and minority partners actually increased slightly. The percentage of minorities who are partners is 6.16 percent, up from 6.05 percent last year, and the percentage of women who are partners is 19.43 percent, up from 19.21 percent last year.

The results vary by city. Among the largest cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco had the best numbers for women, minorities and minority women. Among the smaller cities, Miami and San Jose-area firms did the best.

“In many other cities, the picture is considerably different,” the press release says. “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.”

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