Female and minority lawyer representation in firms reaches historic highs, but gains are small, new report says

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Progress is slow for law firms seeking to increase representation of female and minority lawyers, according to a new report by the National Association for Law Placement.

Even though representation of female, minority and minority female lawyers reached historic highs in 2020, the gains were small, according to the 2020 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms. A Feb. 2 press release is here, and the report is here.

James Leipold, executive director of the NALP, said in the report the NALP has made a renewed commitment to use its research to document and call out inequity in the legal profession.

“Despite enormous efforts by law firms to make progress, bias in the profession has maintained inequities long past when many other professions, most notably medicine, have become much more diverse,” Leipold said in the report.

“Let this time embolden all of us to renew our efforts to address more directly and more forcefully systemic bias and prejudice in the legal profession, and in particular the many ways that the profession has failed Black lawyers and the Black community,” he added.

According to the report, the representation of lawyers of color in law firms increased from 16.98% in 2019 to 17.95% in 2020; the representation of female lawyers of color increased from 8.73% in 2019 to 9.32% in 2020; and the representation of female lawyers increased from 36.33% in 2019 to 37.14% in 2020.

Other findings included:

• The percentage of Black associates surpassed 5% in 2020 for the first time since the NALP began collecting data. The share of associates who are Black women increased to 3.04%, finally exceeding the 2009 figure of 2.93%. The overall percentage of associates of color increased about a percentage point to 26.48%, driven largely by increased representation of Asian associates.

• Despite modest growth in 2020, Black women and Latina women each continued to represent less than 1% of all partners in U.S. law firms. The percentage of Black partners overall finally surpassed 2% for the first time since the NALP began collecting data.

• Just one position was made up of a majority of women lawyers: nontraditional track/staff attorney positions. Representation of women lawyers in that position was 55.35%, a slight decrease from 2019. People of color had 25.14% of those positions, a slight increase from 2019.

• Among associates, the share of women was 47.45%, a historic high. At the partner level, women had the largest annual gain, increasing from 24.17% of all partners in 2019 to 25.05% in 2020. At the equity partner level, the share of women was 21.3%.

• The percentage of LGBTQ lawyers in 2020 was 3.31%, an increase of one-third of a percentage point. The percentage of LGBTQ associates was 4.66%.

The report is based on based on information from the 2020-2021 NALP Directory of Legal Employers, which includes information from 883 law firm offices.

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