« Munger Tolles Did It. Why Can't You? | Main | But Where Are the Black Partners? »

Minority Lawyer Numbers Are Improving. Really. (Ok, caveats apply.)

Vivia Chen

January 10, 2019


You know how I’ve long berated Big Law for dragging its feet on diversity? My standard spiel is that firms talk a good game but have little to show when it comes to results.

Well, hold on to your hats, people. Believe it or not, there are signs that firms are actually taking diversity seriously. According to the 2018 Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey, there are some solid improvements for lawyers of color. Behold the good news:

Minorities now account for 17 percent of lawyers at firms (nearly a percentage point higher than last year, continuing a steady upward trend).

For partners, minority representation is now 9 percent (3 percent increase since 2007). Lawyers of color now make up 25 percent of associates and 13 percent of counsel. And for management and executive committees, minorities now represent more than 9 percent of members.

Law firms are recruiting more lawyers and law students of color, and women make up the majority of these new hires. For 2017, minorities made up 26 percent of new hires and 32 percent of summer associates.

Unquestionably, diversity is trending upward. The report says minority representation is at all-time high for partners, associates, counsel and leaders.

So is it time for me to chill and stop badgering firms about the way they handle diversity?

Well, let’s not get carried away. But I will give credit where credit is due. Though I’ve expressed doubts that firms are really putting in the effort, firms seem to be trying harder, as evidenced by the fact that more than a quarter of new hires are minorities. (Another positive sign is that the 2017 summer associate class boasts the highest percentage of blacks to date, almost 8 percent.)

“The legal industry is gradually becoming a little less monochromatic and male-dominated,” says Vera Djordjevich, Vault’s managing director for research and consulting. “Firms recognize diversity, or the lack thereof, as a legitimate issue to address.”

So why am I still skeptical? For one thing, the report says that minorities continue to “represent a disproportionate—and growing—segment of the lawyers who leave their firms,” noting that 22 percent of all diverse lawyers and 28 percent of diverse associates left firms, the highest reported numbers in 11 years.

Also, there are distinct trouble spots for certain minorities. For instance, the study finds that Asian-Americans are least likely to become partners (Hispanics are most likely). Though Asians represent almost 45 percent of minority lawyers, they make up just 38 percent of minority partners. “Asians are the largest minority group at these firms, but proportionately fewer Asians are partners or serving in leadership roles than Hispanic or black attorneys,” notes Djordjevich.

And don’t get me started about how minority women are not sharing in the progress made by their white sisters, which I detailed in my last post, “(White) Women Are Making Gains in Big Law.”

But arguably most alarming of all is that black lawyers are actually falling behind. The report says: “Among the three largest minority groups, the numbers of African American/Black attorneys hired and promoted remain lower than they were prior to the recession.” Moreover, last year’s black lawyers promoted to partner (2.3 percent) was the lowest to date. And, of course, black female lawyers are doing even worse; their departures from firms continue to outpace all other minority groups.

So there you have it: Some great news for minority and women overall, so long as you don’t look too closely. Because if you get into the weeds, you’ll see all sorts of troubling trends for African-Americans, Asian-Americans and women of color.

Oh, I know, I’m being picky, picky.



Twitter: @lawcareerist.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Subscribe to get The Careerist via e-mail

Enter your e-mail address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

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: VChen@alm.com

To search across all ALM blogs, go to www.Lexis.com.