As the legal community celebrates Black History Month, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) reports mixed lawyer diversity numbers.

Law firms have historically struggled with lawyer diversity. However, the industry appears to be prioritizing a diverse workforce. Seventy-five percent of Jenner & Block’s 2019 partner class identify as racially diverse or women. Drinker Biddle & Reath’s 2019 partnership announcement emphasized its commitment to promoting women. Meanwhile, Paul, Weiss’ all-white and majority male partner class generated a social media firestorm.

Last month, NALP released its 2018 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms. The data is based on its 2018-2019 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE). NDLE includes information for over 109,000 partners, associates and other lawyers in 1,009 offices, and for almost 6,900 summer associates in 725 offices nationwide.

The report found that while women, minorities and LGBT attorneys have continued to make slight gains at U.S. law firms since the recession, representation among Black / African-Americans remains stalled.

Partners

Minorities made up 9.13 percent of partners at large U.S. firms in 2018. Women accounted for 23.36 percent. This is up from 8.42 percent and 22.70 percent in 2017, respectively.

The increase of roughly seven-tenths of a percentage point in minorities is the largest in the 26 years since NALP began compiling the NDLE.

Minority women account for 3.19 percent of partners, the most underrepresented group at the partner level. Minority men represented 5.94 percent of partners in 2018 compared to 5.52 percent in 2017. Much of this gain can be attributed to Asian and Hispanic male partners. The number of Black / African-American male partners has remained flat at 1.83 percent. This is not much higher than 1.71 percent in 2009.

Associates

Minorities made up 24.22 percent of associates in 2018 compared to 19.53 percent in 2010. The number of women associates reached an all-time high of 45.91 percent in 2018. However, this is just a 0.25 percent increase over 2009 levels. Minority women associates rose from 11 percent in 2009-2012 to 13.52 percent in 2018.

The majority of the growth in minority associates can be attributed to an increase in Asian associates. Asians now make up 11.69 percent of all associates. Black / African-American associates represent only 4.48 percent of associates, still trailing 2009’s 4.66 percent.

More than one-third (35 percent) of summer associates in 2018 were racial / ethnic minorities. This is an increase of almost 3 percent over 2017.

LGBT lawyers

The number of LBGT lawyers is up slightly, at 2.86 percent in 2018 compared with 2.64 percent in 2017. The percentage of LGBT summer associates at large firms reached a high of 6.42 percent (and 5.73 percent across all firm sizes), suggesting potential for increased representation.

Lawyers with disabilities

Data on lawyers with disabilities remains scarce. Roughly one-half of one percent of partners self-reported as having a disability in 2018. This compares to about four-tenths of one percent in 2017. At the associate level, 0.46 percent of lawyers identified a disability in 2018, down from 0.60 percent in 2017.

Geographic disparity

There remains a geographic disparity among minority lawyers. Miami law firms report a higher percentage of minority and minority women partners, associates and summer associates than any other city. Phoenix and Salt Lake City report no Black / African-American partners.

In Chicago, 7.91 percent of partners are minority and 2.70 percent are minority woman. Minority associates totaled 21.32 percent, with 11.18 percent being minority women. These numbers slightly trail the national average.

While slow progress toward lawyer diversity continues, law firms have a way to go before they reflect the racial / ethnic makeup of America.

How can the legal industry tackle its lawyer diversity problem? David L. Douglass, managing partner at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, will explore the ethical case for diversity at The Future Is Now 2.019 on May 16 in Chicago. Early bird registration is open, but space is limited.

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Laura Bagby is Communications Director at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, where she develops and executes strategy to elevate the Commission among attorneys and judges in Illinois. Laura leverages communications channels to educate and engage with the legal community in support…

Laura Bagby is Communications Director at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, where she develops and executes strategy to elevate the Commission among attorneys and judges in Illinois. Laura leverages communications channels to educate and engage with the legal community in support of the Commission’s mission of increasing civility and professionalism to enable the administration of justice.