Study of black Harvard law grads finds many leave private practice; 66% would recommend legal career

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Harvard Law School

Courtesy Harvard Law School

Black graduates of Harvard Law School leave private practice at a higher rate than white or black lawyers nationwide, according to a study of the graduates from 2000 to 2016.

Nearly 72 percent of black Harvard law grads start their careers in private practice, mostly at larger law firms, the Careerist reports. Seventy percent of female black Harvard law graduates started at the largest firms, with 251 or more lawyers, compared to 53 percent of male black law graduates.

But the percentage of Harvard law grads in private practice dropped by 63 percent, compared to a 38 percent drop among black lawyers and a 28 percent drop among white lawyers surveyed in a national study, according to the study (PDF) by Harvard law professor David Wilkins.

In the black Harvard law graduates’ current jobs, about 27 percent were in private practice, 17.5 percent were in government, about 15 percent were in business practicing law, 10 percent were in business not practicing law, about 12 percent were in education, about 7 percent were in public interest, and about 2 percent were in legal services.

Among those who said they were still in private practice in current jobs, nearly 50 percent were in firms with more than 251 lawyers, and 41 percent were in firms of 50 lawyers or less.

More females than males left law firms. Asked to identify their current jobs, about 20 percent of black females and about 34 percent of black males reported they were still in private practice.

Black women were also less satisfied with their careers in private practice, rating their career satisfaction at 4.8 on a seven-point scale, compared to a 5.6 rating by men. For all jobs, males rated their career satisfaction at 5.8, compared to 5.6 for women.

Nearly 89 percent of the males said they would still attend law school, if they could do it over, compared to about 86 percent for females. Seventy percent of the males and about 62 percent of the females said they would recommend law to a young person. Overall, only 66 percent would recommend a legal career.

Wilkins tells the Careerist he is concerned about women lagging behind men in satisfaction. He is also concerned about the percentage of black lawyers who would recommend legal careers to younger people.

“People have built successful careers,” Wilkins tells the Careerist. “But black lawyers are like canaries in the coal mine. They see the toxins first.”

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