Minority hiring up at law firms, women associates still lags

Law firms have made progress in minority recruitment, but the number of women associates fell for the fourth straight year, according to a recent study by the National Association for Law Placement.

The percentage of women associates had increased from nearly 40 percent in 1993 to more than 45 percent in 2009. But since then the number has fallen to just over 44 percent in 2013.

With a slightly higher percentage of minority associates in law firms in 2013 than before the decline in 2010, law firms have rebounded to some degree from the widespread associate layoffs in 2009.

“The stories of women and minorities in terms of representation have always been sort of parallel, and that is they’re underrepresented, but each year, over time, there’s been some progress and those numbers have gotten better each year although very slowly,” said James Leipold, Executive Director of NALP.

Although the percentage of women associates continued to decline, the number of women and minority partners in law firms increased in 2013. In 2013, minorities accounted for more than seven percent of partners. Additionally, more than 20 percent of partners were women nationwide.  

“Women and minorities continue to be pretty dramatically underrepresented at a partnership level,” Leipold said.

The study concluded that, for lawyers as a whole, representation of women increased by only about one-tenth of a percentage point. Women comprised slightly less than one-third of lawyers as a whole. The percentage of minority lawyers increased slightly as well, with minorities making up just over 13 percent in 2013.

The representation of women and minorities in summer associate programs was significantly higher, with women accounting for more than 45 percent of summer associates and minorities making up nearly 30 percent. Although more favorable, the percentage of women and minority summer associates declined since 2012.

NALP has been conducting this study since 1993. The study collected data from law firms to determine the percentages of both women and minority lawyers in 1,127 offices nationwide. The data also included information regarding summer associate representation in 767 offices throughout the United States.

“One of the core values NALP has as an organization is diversity, and to be an advocate for diversity within the legal profession, Leipold said. “We have always found that the most useful role we can play there is a research role because we have the capacity to do that.”