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Women Law Firm Associate Numbers Back to Pre-Recession Level

Jan. 10, 2019, 9:56 AM

The number of women associates working at law firms bounced back in 2018 to a pre-Great Recession level, according to a new report on firm diversity.

The 2018 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, released by the National Association for Law Placement on Wednesday, indicated that 45.91 percent of associates at firms were women last year. That exceeds the 45.66 percent that NALP found were at firms in 2009.

The 2018 stats may not have beaten the 2009 mark by much, but they certainly exceed numbers posted by the industry in the intervening years, which dipped into the 44-percent range.

The ranks of minority partners also increased last year, the report said, but not dramatically.

While the stats ticked upwards, numbers of African-American and black associates remain below levels prior to the advent of the Great Recession. Their representation in the partner ranks also remained fairly static, and minority women remain the most underrepresented partnership segment, according to the report.

Minorities and women in law firms were let go in large numbers about a decade ago as corporate clients began tightening their legal budgets and firms began cutting lawyers, largely on the basis of the most recently hired associates and partners.

In a statement, James Leipold, NALP’s executive director, called the latest report a “good news/bad news story.”

While women and minorities saw some additional representation, he said, “the representation of Black/African-American partners has barely budged since the recession, and minority women continue to be the most underrepresented group at the partnership level, with Black/African-American women least well represented of all.”

Last year, women accounted for 23.6 percent of partners at the firms counted, which was up from 22.70 percent in 2017. Minorities accounted for 9.13 percent of partners, up from 8.42 percent in 2017.

NALP issues an annual report based on data from legal employers that it publishes in its directory. This includes information from more than 109,000 partners, associates and other lawyers in 1,009 offices, and for nearly 6,900 summer associates in 724 offices around the country.

Not all geographies performed equally in NALP’s report. Miami was a standout, Leipold said, as law firms there reported the highest percentages of minority partners and minority associates compared to other geographies included in the report.

He said Miami was a contrast to Boston, which reported numbers for minorities lower than other cities of its size and legal market heft. The report said just under 1 percent of partners there were black, but that was still better than Phoenix where firms in NALP’s analysis reported no black partners.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at

To contact the editor on this story: Rebekah Mintzer at