Oddly enough, this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, over the last thirty years, the number of Asian American law students has quadrupled to the point where they made up about 8 percent of the total student body.
For example, in 1983, nearly 2000 Asian Americans attended law school in the US. In 2009, that number reached its peak of 11,327 students. Since then however, that number has dropped dramatically.
In 2016, only 2,263 Asian American students enrolled – down 43 percent from 2009 – the lowest enrollment has reached in nearly two decades.
When comparing the representation of other racial and ethnic groups entering law school since 2009, first-year enrollment has declined by 34 percent among whites and by 14 percent among African Americans. Hispanics however have seen growth, increasing their representation in law schools by 29 percent.
This trend continues when Asian American law students enter the profession as well.
Despite the fact that they make up 10.3 percent of top 30 law schools, more than 50 percent of top tier schools, and that they are the largest minority group in the legal profession, this group is the least represented in law firm leadership.
In 2015, the ratio of associates to partners surveyed by Vault/MCCA was 3.70 for Asian Americans, compared to 2.22 for African Americans or Blacks, 1.92 for Hispanics or Latinos, and 0.86 for whites.
Law360 reported that in 2014 the ratio of non-partners to partners was 3.59 for Asian Americans, 2.37 for Blacks, 1.89 for Hispanics, and 0.98 for whites.
The lack of representation also applies to Asian Americans on the bench. They comprise only 3.4 percent of active federal judges. Whites make up 72 percent, African Americans make up 14.2 percent, and Hispanics 10.6 percent of the federal judiciary.
Numbers are low in state courts as well. Asian American lawyers made up about 2 percent of judges serving on a state appellate court or general jurisdiction trial court compared to 82.7 percent for white non-Hispanics, 7.9 percent for African-Americans, and 5.2 percent for Hispanics. 40 states do not have an Asian American judge serving on a state appellate court, and 21 states do not have an Asian American judge serving on a state appellate court or general jurisdiction trial court.
With attrition rates climbing and a lack of Asian Americans in leadership roles, it’s clear that representation really does matter. The question is – what should we as a profession do to solve the problem?