Progress in law firm diversity is slow

December 29, 2013

Women attorneys are making gains at the partner level, but falling behind at the associate level at the nation’s largest law firms, according to new data collected on the percentage of women and minority attorneys at U.S. law firms.

Women make up 20.2 percent of partners at major law firms — up from 19.9 percent in 2012 — but the percentage of women associates dipped slightly from 45.1 to 44.8 percent over the same period, according to a report released this month by the National Association for Law Placement, the District-based group that tracks diversity and career advancement issues in the legal industry. It is the fourth year in a row that the ratio of women associates has dropped since it reached a high of 45.7 percent in 2009.

“While the percentage of women partners, small as it is, has continued to grow each year, sustained incremental growth in the future is at risk if the percentage of women associates continues to inch downwards,” NALP’s executive director James Leipold said in a statement. “This should be a red flag for everyone in legal education and the law firm world.”

Meanwhile, the percentage of minority partners and associates both grew from 6.7 percent to 7.1 percent, and from 20.3 to 20.9 percent, respectively.

The figures for women and minority lawyers are better — but not drastically better — compared to 1993, when NALP first started collecting the statistics, signaling the legal industry is continuing to struggle with diversifying. In 1993, minorities accounted for 2.6 percent of law firm partners and women accounted for 12.3 percent.

Law firms in Washington ranked slightly above the national averages for 2013: 20.4 percent women partners and 45.8 percent women associates; 7.7 percent minority partners and 21 percent minority associates.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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