Only 3 percent of lawyers in BigLaw are black, and numbers are falling

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BigLaw has few African American lawyers and the numbers are declining, according to a new survey.

Only 3 percent of the lawyers at large law firms are African American, and only 1.9 percent of the partners are African American, according to the American Lawyer’s Diversity Scorecard.

Though the percentage of all minorities slightly increased last year at the 223 reporting large law firms, the number of African American lawyers fell, the American Lawyer says. The New York Times reports on the findings, summarized in this press release.

The problems began during the economic downturn.

“The recession was a disaster for lawyers of all minorities at large firms; they were almost twice as likely to be laid off as their white peers,” the story says. “Between 2008 and 2009, the number of minority lawyers at the nation’s largest firms dropped by 9 percent, mostly associates. But while the numbers of Asian-American and Hispanic lawyers have since rebounded past prerecession levels, black lawyer head count has continued to slide. The percentage of black lawyers at the largest firms is now at a level not seen since 2000: 3 percent of all lawyers, down from 3.1 percent in 2012.”

Asian-Americans are the largest group of minorities in law firms, amounting to 6.3 percent of the lawyers and 2.7 percent of the partners. Hispanics account for 3.2 percent of the lawyers and 2.3 percent of the partners.

The numbers were even worse in the American Lawyer’s statistics on equity partnerships at America’s largest 100 law firms. Out of 77 Am Law 100 firms that reported minority numbers for equity partnerships, 31 either had no African American equity partners or just one. Only one firm, Jones Day, had more than 10—it had a dozen, which amounts to 1.8 percent of its equity partners.

“What has gone so wrong?” the American Lawyer asks. “Pressures within law firms that began during the recession have made partnership both a more difficult and less attractive proposition for black lawyers. Meanwhile, the pipeline has narrowed. As firms keep associate classes smaller, fewer black lawyers are moving into firms; the black law graduates who are tapped by elite firms continue to be a small group of high-ranking students from first- or second-tier law schools. Finally, a mid-2000s push by corporations to compel their outside counsel to diversify has receded, displaced by concerns over law firm pricing.”

The story also points to recent research that “paint[s] an alarming picture of the continuing presence of unconscious racial bias at firms.”

Which firms had the greatest percentage of minority lawyers? According to the article, the top firm is White & Case, with 27.5 percent minority lawyers and 21.8 percent partners. Numbers 2 and 3 were Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith.

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