Minority Recruitment Still Failing to Yield Diversity at the Top

January 22, 2019

The National Association for Law Placement recently published its 2018 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, with some promising results. The number of women in law firms has steadily increased for three years in a row and, overall, women and minorities managed to make small gains as partners. However, black representation among associates dropped in 2018.

Although the representation of women, minorities, and minority women associates has grown in the past year, minority women continue to be the most underrepresented group at the partnership level, despite a small bump over 2017’s numbers.

The number of LGBT attorneys has generally been trending upward since 2002, but this year’s increase was a small one. What is interesting about the LGBT statistics, though, is that this group still only makes up less than 3% of attorneys, and among that 3 percent there are drastic geographic disparities: 55 percent of LGBT attorneys reside in just four cities (New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco).

The smallest group in this diversity study has finally begun to gain more attention in the past few years, yet it still accounts for just 0.5 percent of attorneys: attorneys with disabilities. Attorneys with disabilities, regardless of race or gender, are pretty scarce at both the associate and partner levels.

At the national level, the numbers break down this way*:

  • Roughly 40 to 50 percent of associates are women

  • Roughly 15 to 25 percent of associates are minorities

  • Roughly 20 to 27 percent of partners are women

  • Roughly 6 to 12 percent of partners are minorities * Obviously, there are a few outliers in each case

This study also broke down the numbers by location, and Chicago’s numbers are in line with the average in most categories. Here are some of the highlights of the 53 Chicago offices surveyed:

  • 23 percent of partners and 44 percent of associates are women

  • 8 percent of partners and 21 percent of associates are minorities

  • Less than 3 percent of partners and 11 percent of associates are minority women

While the numbers from this survey suggest growth in law firm diversity overall, gains made at the associate level are not necessarily translating to a more diverse equity partnership. Firms must move beyond a focus on recruitment to examine policies around mentorship and business development that will stem attrition and lead to full inclusion at the top.