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Diverse Equity Partners on the Rise in Big Law, But Gaps Remain

Jan. 28, 2020, 9:37 PM

Law firms are increasing their ranks of diverse attorneys at the equity partner level, a new survey said, but lawyers from historically marginalized groups are still better represented in the nonequity partner category.

The 2019 Inclusion Blueprint Report is a collaborative effort from Diversity Lab and ChIPs, groups that promote diversity and inclusion in law.

The survey goes beyond just collecting data regarding firms’ representations of women, minority, and LGBTQ+ attorneys—and provides target thresholds for firms to reach. These targets are 30% representation of women lawyers, 15% of racial and ethnic minorities, and 5% of LGBTQ+ attorneys.

“In setting the targets, we looked at recent law school graduation rates and the current representation of historically underrepresented populations at AmLaw 200 firms,” said Caren Ulrich Stacy, CEO of Diversity Lab, in a statement. “The Inclusion Blueprint targets are a middle-ground between those numbers and a stretch for the majority of AmLaw 200 firms to reach in the short-term.”

The new survey, conducted in July 2019, showed a gap between equity partners, and nonequity partners. Nonequity partners generally do not hold shares in a firm, limiting their ability to reap financial benefits.

The new data reveals that the number of historically underrepresented equity partners increased year over year, with 63% of firms reporting more female equity partners than in the past. Of the firms polled, 54% had increased ethnic and racial minority equity partners, and 27% increased LGBTQ+ equity partners.

But respondents still reported hitting the threshold targets more successfully for nonequity than equity partners in all three categories.

Though 43% of the firms said they met or exceeded the 30% gender target for non-equity partners, just 7% met or exceeded that percentage for equity partners. Some 30% of firms met or surpassed the racial and ethnic minority target for nonequity partners, while only 17% of them hit the mark for equity partners. For LGBTQ+ lawyers, there was also a gap with 4% of firms meeting or exceeding the target on the equity side, compared to 7% for nonequity.

Nearly 75 law firms total participated in the survey, with 59 of those listed in the AmLaw 200.

The report singles out 13 firms as “Blueprint Champions” for scoring the highest percentage of points for diversity representation, as well as promotion of inclusion activities. They included Arnold & Porter, Baker Botts, Brooks Kushman, DLA Piper, Goldberg Segalla, Morrison & Foerster, Perkins Coie, Procopio, Reed Smith, Ropes & Gray, Sheppard Mullin, Wiley, and WilmerHale.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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