Law Firms

Law firm leaders are still mostly white and male, ABA diversity survey says

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White male attorneys continue to constitute the highest percentages of equity partners, non-equity partners and associates at law firms, according to an ABA report released Monday.

The 2021 Model Diversity Survey, conducted by the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, collected data from 287 law firms with a total of more than 100,000 attorneys nationwide in 2020, according to an ABA press release. It is the second ABA report on diversity, equity and inclusion in law firm practice.

The first report was released in 2019 and based on three years of data. It stemmed from a 2016 resolution that urged legal service providers to create opportunities for diverse attorneys and buyers of legal services to direct a greater percentage of their legal spending toward diverse attorneys.

According to the latest survey’s examination of law firm demographics, white attorneys made up 81% to 93% of equity partners across all firms in 2020. White attorneys made up about 70% to 90% of non-equity partners and 70% to 79% of associates.

Asian attorneys represented the next highest number of equity partners in larger firms, although these percentages only ranged from about 2.9% to 4%. Other racial categories did not consistently report above 1% of equity partners across firms, the report said.

Asian attorneys also represented the second highest number of non-equity partners and associates within firms in 2020. According to the report, they made up about 3.5% to 9.3% of non-equity partners and 3% to 11% of associates.

Meanwhile, both Black and Hispanic attorneys constituted between 2% and 3% of non-equity partners and 4% to 6% of associates within firms.

The ABA report showed that male attorneys constituted about 80% of equity partners and 70% of non-equity partners in 2020. Male and female representation was closer to even at the associate level, with male attorneys constituting about 43% to 55% of associates, depending on the firm’s size.

LGBTQ+ attorneys made up about 1.6% to 3.8% of equity partners; about 1.6% to 5.3% of non-equity partners; and about 0.5% to 4% of associates across all firm sizes in 2020, according to the report. However, between 2019 to 2020, LGBTQ+ associates showed the largest gains in small firms, increasing from 0.37% to 2.28% of associates.

The report noted that the number of equity partners with disabilities remained “very low, approximately one half of one percent.” It showed a slight increase in 2020, as medium, large and extra-large firms increased their average percentage of equity partners with disabilities to about 0.65%. Similarly, the average percentage of non-equity partners and associates with disabilities was less than 1% across all law firms.

Other significant findings include:

• In 2020, Black and Asian attorneys experienced the greatest attrition from law firms at 23% and 19%, respectively. White attorneys reported the lowest attrition at 12%.

• Most law firms did not hire a single attorney who self-identified as Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+ or having a disability in 2020.

• White attorneys were nearly twice as likely to be hired into partnership positions as other racial groups in 2020.

• In 2020, the percentage of male attorneys hired as equity partners was 6%, while the percentage of female attorneys hired as equity partners was 2%. But at the associate level, female attorneys were hired at a rate of 53% and male attorneys were hired at a rate of 47%.

• LGBTQ+ attorneys were less likely to be hired into partnership positions compared to non-LGBTQ+ attorneys in 2020.

• The representation of both racially and ethnically underrepresented groups and white female attorneys as hiring partners and on compensation committees and firm-wide committees declined in 2020. It substantially increased for white male attorneys in all three categories.

See also: “ABA’s Model Diversity Survey can help with DEI strategies” “Diversity ‘bottleneck’ and minority attrition keep firm leadership ranks white and male, new ABA survey says”

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