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Women, Minorities Make Few Law Partnership Gains, Report Says

Feb. 2, 2021, 5:02 AM

Women and minorities are making scant progress in joining the partnership ranks of law firms.

People of color accounted for 10.2% of all partners at major firms last year, up from 9.6% in 2019, and women comprised 25.1%, up from 24.17% the previous year, a legal association report showed.

Blacks comprised more than 2% of partnership ranks last year for the first time in more than a decade, according to the National Association for Law Placement report. The percentage of Black associates topped 5%.

“Despite these increases, less than 4% of all partners are women of color — a figure that remains abysmally low,” association Executive Director James G. Leipold said. “Worse, Black women and Latinx women each continued to represent less than 1% of all partners in U.S. law firms.”

The report comes after years of firm efforts, including the hiring diversity officers and pledges to expand recruiting pools that have had little effect on the numbers of women and minorities in law firms. Corporations, including most recently the Coca-Cola Co., have been pressuring law firms who handle their legal matters to include more minorities in their legal teams.

Leipold noted that 2020 was marked by efforts to confront society’s structural and systemic racism that were sparked by the violent deaths of George Floyd and others, and “the legal profession was not immune.”

“Despite enormous efforts by law firms to make progress, bias in the profession has maintained inequities long past when many other professions, most notably medicine, have become more diverse,” he said.

The percentage of female equity partners increased by one percentage point since 2019, and the percentage of equity partners who are people of color increased by half of a percentage point compared to 2019, the report found.

The share of Black women associates, which fell for several years following the Great Recession, was 3.04% in 2020, the report showed. That amounted to an increase of one-tenth of a percentage point over the 11-year period beginning in 2009.

The percentage of LGBTQ lawyers increased by approximately one-third of a percentage point, rising to 3.31%. LGBTQ representation among summer associates continues to grow at a much faster pace, increasing by 0.8 percentage points, from 6.86% in 2019 to 7.68% in 2020.

Leipold, who compiled the data for NALP’s annual Report on Diversity at U.S. Law Firms, urged legal industry efforts “to address more directly and more forcefully systemic bias and prejudice in the legal profession, and in particular the many ways that the profession has failed Black lawyers and the Black community.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson at egolson1@gmail.com
To contact the editor on this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloombergindustry.com;
John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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