Little Progress for Black and Latina Lawyers at the Partner Level, According to NALP

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Despite increased representation of women, people of color, and those who identify as LGBTQ among associates, progress for Black and Latina partners remains “excruciatingly slow,” according to the NALP 2022 Report on Diversity in Law Firms.

Black and Latina women each accounted for less than 1% of all partners in 2022, increasing by less than 0.1 percentage point from 2021.

Conversely, women in general now make up nearly half of all associates and summer associates.

Over the 30 years that NALP has collected data, the representation of people of color at the partner level has increased by less than 10 percentage points and women by less than 16 points, meaning gender and racial parity is unlikely to occur within another 30 years, the report said.

Overall, white men continue to dominate the partner level.

“While the legal industry continues to make measurable gains in the representation of women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals in the associate and summer associate ranks, it is equally clear that law firm leaders have failed to do the work necessary to break down the systemic barriers that prevent these individuals from joining them in the ranks of partnership,” said Nikia L. Gray, Executive Director of NALP, in the introduction to the report.

Diversity in law firms increases below the partner level

Most of the changes in diversity in law firms happened below the partner level. In addition to the continued diversification of summer associates and associates, the percentage of lawyers who are women of color rose above 10% for the first time.

Black associates saw the largest increase in representation by race/ethnicity among associates over the last year, rising by more than half of a percentage point to 5.77% of all associates; Black summer associates increased by 0.7 percentage points to 11.85% of all summer associates.

The percentage of LGBTQ lawyers overall grew by half of a percentage point from 2021 to 2022, the largest year-over-year increase since NALP began tracking these data. LGBTQ summer associates continued to grow by nearly 1 percentage point to 9.37%.

However, only 22.6% of equity partners were women and only 9% were people of color.

This finding is true of firms of all sizes and jurisdictions, though diversity is slightly more prevalent among non-equity partners.

Among all partners, just 4% are women of color.

“By any measure, such abysmal progress is a failure and suggests that little work has been done to examine and change the exclusionary practices that create inequalities and close the partnership ranks to non-Caucasian, non-cisgender male, non-heterosexual lawyers,” Gray said.

However, the report also said that the growing number of women and people of color among summer associates suggests that law firms should see similar diversity increases at upper levels in the coming years, should they retain those lawyers.

LGBTQ representation reaches new heights

Representation of LGBTQ lawyers is at its highest level ever and continuing to climb.

Overall, 4.17% of all lawyers identified as LGBTQ. The almost 5 percentage point increase in diversity among summer associates since 2017 suggests that there is still the potential for additional growth in the presence of LGBTQ associates at these firms, the report said.

Representation of LGBTQ lawyers differs significantly by geographic location and firm size, though. Almost half of all LGBTQ lawyers were working in New York City, Washington, DC, Boston, or San Francisco and firms of 101-250 lawyers reported the highest share of LGBTQ summer associates in 2022.

About the NALP 2022 Report on Diversity in Law Firms

The report is based on information from the 2022-2023 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE).

The NDLE is a research database of legal employers—including law firms, government agencies, public interest organizations, and corporations—throughout the United States. The NALP Directory provides specific information on lawyer demographics, practice areas, compensation and benefits, diversity and inclusion practices, and other information about legal employers.

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