Percentage of black associates in large firms finally tops 2009 level, but not by much

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The percentage of black associates in major law firms finally surpassed 2009 figures this year, according to a new diversity report by the National Association for Law Placement.

The percentage of black associates rose to 4.76%, compared to 4.66% in 2009, the year of widespread layoffs, according to the report. In 2018, the percentage was 4.48%. A Dec. 18 press release is here.

While the increase “is a positive sign, it is barely so,” says James Leipold, NALP executive director, in the report. “It strikes me as somewhat of a tragedy that it has taken more than 10 years to achieve such a meager benchmark, and it is notable that the number remains well below 5%.”

Overall, Leipold says, the story of diversity in large law firms “is one of slow incremental gains for women and people of color in both the associate and partnership ranks, interrupted by some recession-era setbacks, but at a rate so slow as to almost seem imperceptible at times.

“Women and people of color continue to be well represented in law school and in the summer associate class, but at each year after that women and people of color leave the lawyer ranks at law firms at a higher rate than white men, and women of color remain the most underrepresented of all.”

The figures are based on NALP’s 2019 Directory of Legal Employers.

For associates, the report found:

• The share of all minority associates is 25.44%, up from 19.67% in 2009 and 24.22% last year. Much of the increase in minority associates is due to an increase in Asian associates.

• The share of all female associates was 46.77%, up from 45.66% in 2009 and 45.91% last year. This year’s figure is the highest in the 27 years NALP has been reporting data.

For all partners, the report found:

• The percentage of women partners was 24.17%, up from 19.21% in 2009 and 23.36% in 2018.

• The percentage of minority partners was 9.55%, up from 6.05% in 2009 and 9.13% in 2018.

For equity partners only, in the fewer number of firms that reported the demographics, the report found:

• The percentage of female equity partners was 20.3%, up from 15.6% in 2011 and 19.6% in 2018.

• The percentage of equity partners who were minorities was 7.6%, up from 4.7% in 2011 and 6.6% in 2018.

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