NALP just release its annual report on diversity, and the news is none too cheery. In a nutshell: Women in the associate ranks declined for the fourth year in a row, while women and minorities in the partnership ranks show some (tiny) improvement.
Here are the top findings in the NALP report, which looked at race and gender information of over 110,000 lawyers nationwide (the vast majority work at big, national firms):
1. Female associate numbers fell: In 2009, women accounted for 45.66 percent of associates; in 2013, it was 44.79 percent. (In 1993, the percentage of women associates was 38.99 percent.)
2. Minority associate numbers recovered, except for minority women: Overall, minority associate numbers recovered from a decline in 2009 to 2010. From 1993 to 2013, minority associate percentages increased from 8.36 to 20.93 percent. But minority women associates in the last two years "barely exceeded the 11.02 percent figure for 2009."
3. Female and minority partners numbers rise—a bit. In 2013, minorities accounted for 7.10 percent (up from 6.71 percent in 2012) of partners in big firms, and women 20.22 percent of partners (up from 19.91 percent in 2012).
But NALP points out that the total change "has been only marginal" since 1993 when minorities accounted for 2.55 percent and women 12.27 percent of partners. Minority women make up 2.26 percent of partners, which NALP calls "the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level." (Minority men are 4.84 percent of partners, up from 4.55 percent in 2012.)
4. Overall, there's an increase of female lawyers—by 1/10 of 1 percent! "For lawyers as a whole, representation of women (both minority and non-minority) was up by only about one-tenth of a percentage point and remains lower than in 2009."
5. Compared to women, minority lawyers fared slightly better overall. "Minorities now make up 13.36 percent of lawyers at these law firms, compared with 12.91 percent in 2012." Women, however, have seen their numbers drop steadily, albeit in tiny increments: 32.78 percent in 2013; 32.67 percent in 2012; 32.61 percent in 2011, and 32.69 percent in 2010—"all lower than the 32.97 percent mark reached in 2009." Minority women showed some improvement: now 6.49 percent, up from 6.32 percent in 2012.
Frankly, neither women nor minorities are doing well. Still, let's go back to that third point above: Women's representation in the profession has increased by one-tenth of one percent in the last four years. Whoopee! I mean that is just spectacularly depressing.
James Leipold, NALP’s executive director, also sounds alarmed by that trend. He says the four year decline in women associates establishes a "trend." He adds that more women seem to be "opting out of the BigLaw scene right from the start," plus, he adds, women are leaving associate positions at higher rates for men.
Leipold also notes in NALP's press release that the drop in female associates, unlike that of minority associates, has not rebounded since the recession:
This is a significant historical shift, and represents a divergence in the previously parallel stories of women and minorities in large law firms . . .While the percentage of women partners, small as it is, has continued to grow each year, sustained incremental growth in the future is at risk if the percentage of women associates continues to inch downwards. This should be a red flag for everyone in legal education and the law firm world.
Indeed, it's high time to raise the red flags. Not that it will do much good.
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