Law lags other professions in minority hiring; which group is 'most dramatically underrepresented'?

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Two studies released on Tuesday and Wednesday show that minorities are making small gains in representation in law firms, but the legal profession trails others in diversity.

One of the studies, commissioned by Microsoft, found that 8.4 percent of the nation’s lawyers are African Americans and Hispanics, though those minority groups represent more than 25 percent of the U.S. workforce, report the National Law Journal and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.).

The percentage of African Americans and Hispanics is greater among financial managers (18.9 percent), physicians and surgeons (12.3 percent), and accountants and auditors (16.5 percent), the Microsoft survey found.

The Microsoft study suggests that bar passage rates are part of the problem. “A significant proportion of under-represented minorities who graduate from law school do not pass the bar,” the report says. In the medical field, the study says, licensing rates are higher. The study recommends making bar preparation part of the law school curriculum.

Meanwhile, new statistics by the National Association for Law Placement show the percentage of minorities and women working in law firms. Overall, women and minorities made slight gains in representation in 2013, compared to 2012, though the gain for women was due to increases in the partnership ranks.

Nearly 45 percent of associates are women and nearly 20 percent of partners are women. About 21 percent of associates are minorities and about 7 percent of partners are minorities.

The representation of women among associates has declined slightly for four years in a row, from a high of 45.66 percent in 2009 to the current number of 44.79 percent. NALP executive director James Leipold saw significance in the drop. “While minority associate numbers also dipped immediately after the recession, they quickly rebounded, while the numbers for women have not,” Leipold said in a press release. “This is a significant historical shift, and represents a divergence in the previously parallel stories of women and minorities in large law firms.”

NALP also revealed that minority women are the “most dramatically underrepresented group” at the partnership level, making up just 2.26 percent of law firm partners. Minority women represent 11.29 percent of associates.

NALP’s study is based on information from more than 1,100 law offices in its directory of legal employers.

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