Diversity increases among associates, but ‘we are nowhere near’ expected progress at partner level, NALP president says

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Lawyers of color continue to make gains in the associate ranks at major U.S. law firms, but their progress at the partnership level “has moved at a more sluggish pace,” according to a report released Thursday by the National Association for Law Placement.

Black lawyers made the biggest gain among racial and ethnic minorities among associates, although the increase was still relatively small. Their representation increased by 0.6 percentage points to 5.77% in 2022, according to a press release and the report. Black summer associates increased by 0.7 percentage points to 11.85% in 2022.

The percentage of all lawyers of color in the associate ranks increased from 27.6% in 2021 to 28.32% in 2022. Lawyers of color made up 43.03% of summer associates in 2022.

Representation of minorities lags at the partnership level, however. The percentage of Black lawyers increased from 2.22% of all partners in 2021 to 2.32% in 2022. The percentage of all partners of color increased from 10.75% of partners in 2021 to 11.4% in 2022.

The report is based on information from the 2022 NALP Directory of Legal Employers.

The legal industry is making “measurable gains” at the associate level in its representation of lawyers of color and female and LGBTQ associates, said Nikia L. Gray, executive director of the NALP, in the press release.

At the partnership level, however, “we are nowhere near achieving the progress one would expect from an industry that has been focused on the issue of diversity for over three decades,” Gray said.

Women made up only 26.65% of partners in 2022, and LGBTQ people made up only 2.46% of partners.

At the associate level, 49.42% of associates last year were women, while 6.14% identified as LGBTQ. Among summer associates, 55% were women, and 9.37% were LGBTQ in 2022.

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