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The Model Minority Is Grumpy

Vivia Chen

January 23, 2012

Kids© Kim Gunkel - istockphotoIt's the start of Chinese New Year—the Year of the Dragon—but Asian Pacific Americans lawyers might not be in a mood to celebrate. According to The American Lawyer's 2011 midlevel minority associates survey APAs are not happy campers.

But let's start with a positive: APAs are not griping about their work. Amazingly, they like it! APAs reported the highest score of all groups (including whites, black/African Americans, and Hispanics) for "overall satisfaction with work" and "quality of assignments."

Moreover, APAs also seem valued by their firms. They have the highest billing rates ($450 per hour), eclipsing the average rates for whites ($424), blacks ($405), and Hispanics ($427).

Good work, high billing rates—what else could a lawyer ask for? Well, how about better dough? According to the survey, APAs had the lowest satisfaction score of all groups when it came to compensation. Here's how Brian Zabcik describes the money issue in Corporate Counsel magazine (where the Am Law diversity survey first appeared):

Black associates reported an average annual salary this year of $180,727, an increase of $3,197 from their average in our 2008 survey (the last one conducted before the recession hit that fall). From 2008 to 2011, Hispanic associates showed an increase in average salary of $7,085, whites essentially held steady, and Asians had to contend with a drop in average salary of $3,619. That decline may be why Asian associates reported the lowest satisfaction with compensation and benefits.

Despite that drop in earnings, APAs still took home the highest compensation of all the groups. APAs made $191,074 (both whites and Hispanics made about $6,000 less than APAs, while the gap for blacks was over $10,000).

It's a bit of a mystery why APAs' earnings dropped. What's apparent, though, is that they feel undervalued and less secure about their future at their firms. APAs ranked third in how they assessed their partnership chances—only 63.7 percent considered themselves on partnership track. This is in marked contrast to 76.3 of white associates and 68.4 percent of Hispanics. Black associates, however, persistently showed the lowest expectation—60 percent.

Then there's the issue of mentoring, which is considered critical for promotion to partnership. For whatever reason, APAs seem to be getting lost in the shuffle. Reports Zabcik:

Firms seem to be aware that they need to make an extra effort to retain their minority associates. Black and Hispanic associates were the most likely to say that they had mentors—86.5 percent and 83.1 percent, respectively, said that they did. Asians were the least likely, at 73.8 percent.

So APAs seem to be falling off the radar screen once again.

Is it time for APAs to make a lot more noise? How about setting off some firecrackers at the office to start the new year?

Related posts: "Still Too Nerdy To Get to the Top?," "Still Underdogs."

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].



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Four hundred and fifty dollars per hour? Good gosh. Where are they polling these people? The top 20 law firms in the country? Only Manhattan and D.C. I don't know anyone personally who charges $450 or even $25 per hour.

I wonder if these results reflect a regional impact. There are more Asian Americans in some parts of the country than others. Is weakness in the legal market in those regions what is resulting in what appears to be a greater average loss of compensation for that ethnic group?

Why should anyone care that the group that took home the highest compensation of all groups feels underpaid? The job market for lawyers and everyone else is dismal. People are losing their jobs, houses, families, and minds. These babies should be grateful to have a job, and thrilled that they have such highly-compensated jobs.

Boo hoo. Be grateful you've got a job.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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