Blacks lag when it comes to landing law jobs


Blacks had the lowest overall legal employment rate among all races for the Class of 2019 — even in a year that saw stellar results overall, according to a new report by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).  

Blacks are also getting less desirable jobs in greater percentages. They were employed in bar passage-required jobs at a rate 17 percentage points lower than white grads. Non-J.D. required jobs typically don’t pay as much. And arguably they don’t give law graduates quite the same heft in the legal field. 

America is grappling with racial unrest and this survey adds ammunition to the claim that Blacks are getting a raw deal.

NALP’s Executive Director, James Leipold, was blunt when it came to his assessment of the survey results. 

“I find it particularly discouraging this year to have to report employment findings that highlight stark disparities by race and ethnicity, among other demographic markers, but this should serve as a wake-up call to everyone involved in legal education and the legal profession,” he said. “In a year when the overall class secured jobs and salaries at higher rates than we have seen since before the Great Recession, many subsets of graduates, but especially Black law school graduates, still meet with lower levels of success in the job market than the rest of the graduate pool.”

Yes, the report, Jobs & JDs, Employment and Salaries of New Graduates, Class of 2019, offered much to celebrate. After all, the Class of 2019 had the highest employment rate — 90.2% — since the start of the Great Recession. It topped the Class of 2018, which had a 89.4% rate. It was the best showing since the Class of 2007’s rate of 91.9%.

And compensation improved too. The national median salary, based on reported salaries, was $72,500, up 3.6% compared to the previous year. class. That topped the previous high of the Classes of 2008 and 2009, which was $72,000. 

Grads that landed jobs in law firms continued to do well. The national median was $125,000, up 4.2% over the previous year. And some are making serious coin: Thirty-five percent of all law firm salaries were reported as $190,000.

However …

The employment percentage for Blacks was at 85.4%, which was only slightly worse than Native Americans, who had a 85.5% rate. The rates for whites stood at 92.1%.

Aaron Taylor, executive director AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence, was not surprised by the findings. 

“They align with other research on how structural barriers negatively impact Black people at every stage of the process of becoming lawyers, from their efforts to gain law school admission to their experiences in the profession,” he said. 

So why does it continue to happen?  

“The reasons for these trends are many,” he said. “They are rooted in explicit and implicit bias in the profession and in hiring practices that are exclusionary in ways that are not tied to one’s lawyering skills or potential for success in the job.”

Yet another factor is that Blacks are under-represented in the nation’s best law schools — which are launchings pad to the best careers. 

“Black law students are least likely to attend schools with the best outcomes and the most resources to support student success,” Taylor said. 

One of the reasons for concerns regarding such findings is that the legal profession is one of the least diverse. Only about 5% percent of lawyers are Black. And that means battling systemic racism will be difficult, noted attorney Sharon Jones, in an opinion piece on the website, Changing America. 

“To create the fair and equitable justice system we all seek, we need to be certain that the individuals constructing that new system are diverse and representative of the talent in our diverse population. If not, we will reconstruct the new system with the same racial biases of the old,” she wrote. 

NALP found troublesome signs for Blacks in another, earlier report. In its 2019 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, it found that the percentage of Black associates had finally topped the previous high, which was recorded a full decade ago. The new record? It was below 5%.

“While that is a positive sign, it is barely so, and it strikes me as somewhat of a tragedy that it has taken more than 10 years to achieve such a meager benchmark, and it is notable that the number remains well below 5 percent,” Leipold said at the time.

Maria Gavioli, an attorney, has seen this lack of diversity first-hand. Writing for the website, Medium, she noted just how stark it is:

“During the entire time that I’ve practiced law, I have worked with no more than four Black lawyers in the law firms and legal departments I’ve been a part of. Four!”

She argues that’s it time for law firms to step up — and not just by writing checks.  

“After George Floyd’s death many law firms pledged to donate millions of dollars to racial equality causes, but I didn’t see a particular commitment to mentoring, coaching, developing and hiring minority law students and young lawyers. It’s time for those firms to put their money where their mouth is. Invest in minority law school candidates. Donate time, resources and money to increase the minority law school pool,” she wrote. 

Taylor agrees that law firms need to do more: 

“Employers must consider the extent to which their hiring practices foster inequality for indefensible reasons and then work to reform those practices. Critical to this process is an accounting of bias among people involved in the hiring process. Employers should also make deliberate efforts to hire Black people and others from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds.”