Law Firm Diversity Numbers Are Crawling Forward

January 16, 2024

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has released its “2023 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms,” noting some moderately upbeat news on a few metrics. While the pace of change continues to be painfully slow, the trend is positive. We guess it could be worse?

  • For the first time ever, the majority of associates in 2023 were women. And based on law school data, that percentage is likely to grow in the coming years.
  • 30.15% of associates were people of color, up 1.8 percent from 2022.
  • Women now comprise 27.76% of all partners, a 1.1% increase from 2022.
  • Black and Latina women each account for 1% of all partners for the first time.
  • It is difficult to get accurate numbers on lawyers with disabilities, since, while reporting has increased, many lawyers still do not feel comfortable disclosing non-visible disabilities. The fact that firms are tracking this metric alongside others represents progress. For offices and firms that reported their data to NALP, lawyers with disabilities represented just 1.99% of all lawyers.
  • Just 2.57% of partners identified as LGBTQ, but the proportion of LGBTQ lawyers overall grew slightly to 4.57%.

While we welcome any good news on increasing representation and access to opportunity, it is frustrating to see how long it has taken the legal industry to achieve these modest improvements. Women and people of color continue to be underrepresented at the partnership level ranks, with women of color accounting for less than 5% of partners overall.

A quote from the analysis portion of the report by NALP Executive Director Nikia Gray makes a striking point: “With nearly one-third of graduates being lawyers of color, this means if we do nothing more than we currently are doing, then at the present rate of progress, partners of color will not reach parity with today’s graduates for another fifty years — and given the risks the recent affirmative action decision poses to the overall pipeline of diverse lawyers, even that figure may be optimistic.”

Considering the current political climate alongside that court decision, it’s going to take real fortitude for firms to simply hold on to the small progress they have made. Your firm’s communications strategy plays a significant role in your ability to recruit more diverse candidates, and create the internal culture and external visibility and business development support that ensures they will stay and build a career with you. We’d love to help you audit your current efforts and pinpoint ways to level up. Get in touch.