Women, minorities, underrepresented among law associates

Lawyer layoffs throughout the 2008-2009 season have had a significant impact on the number of women and minorities in the field, according to the National Association for Law Placement's latest report. For the first time since 1993, when NALP first began compiling information, the number of women and minorities in partner and associate ranks has dropped.

Minorities now make up 12.4 percent of lawyers, while women account for 32.7 percent. While these numbers have dropped minimally percentage-wise, they indicate a significant shift in the work environment.

“While the actual drop in the representation of women and minorities is quite small, the significance of the drop is of enormous importance because it represents the reversal of what had been, up until now, a constant upward trend,” NALP Executive Director James Leipold said. “Prior to the recession law firms had struggled to recruit and retain a diverse workforce of attorneys, but there were small gains year after year. The reversal of that trend underscores how important it is for law firms to redouble their diversity efforts.”

The representation of women and minorities is also disproportionate throughout the nation. While women are only 14.24 percent of partners in northern Virginia, they represent 24.23 percent in San Francisco. In addition, minorities are a mere 1.77 percent in Grand Rapids, MI, but 24.04 percent in Miami, FL. Among the major cities, numbers show that Los Angeles and San Francisco have the highest representation of women and minorities.

Leipold points out that the number of women and minorities in summer associate positions has no suffered, a good sign that firms are still doing their best to recruit a diverse work force.

The NALP study is not without flaws. The 2010-2011 NALP Director of Legal Employers, features fewer firms this year than it did the 2009-2010 analysis. This means fewer individuals may be represented in the data. In addition, one thing that the NALP study is unable to identify, however, is causation.

According to Leipold, “the data do not reveal the reasons overall representation of women and minorities among law firm attorneys went down in 2010, but it is likely that the recession, and the many lawyer layoffs … can be identified as at least one significant reason for this historic decrease.”