The American Lawyer reports that according to recent data released by Vault and MCCA, minorities and female lawyers are making gains in overall representation at the nation’s largest firms. According to the Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey, female attorneys represented more than 46 percent of law firm associates and 23 percent of all partners, and for the first time in the 14 years of data collection, the percentage of women equity partners exceeded 20 percent.
Law firms also brought in more female partners as laterals than they have in the past: 28 percent of lateral partners hired in 2017 were women, compared to 24 percent in 2016. And even though women are better represented in the non-equity ranks, many of the new female partners are equity partners. Women represented 29 percent of all new equity partners in 2017, a figure higher than any previous year. The rising number of female partners can be attributed to increases in both lateral hiring and promotions, the report revealed.
Minority representation is growing at all levels, from associates to partners to those in positions of leadership, the survey notes. Since 2007, representation of minority lawyers among law firm partners has grown three percentage points, from 6 percent to 9 percent. Attorneys of color now represent 25 percent of associates and 13 percent of counsel. More than 9 percent of attorneys who serve on management or executive committees are minorities. These figures are all higher than those reported in previous years. Nevertheless, lawyers of color are still much less likely to be partners than white lawyers: 46 percent of white attorneys are partners, compared to 24 percent of minority attorneys, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).
Additionally, the report found that law firms are recruiting more lawyers and law students of color, and women make up the majority of these new hires. Among new attorneys hired in 2017, 26 percent were people of color. Approximately 32 percent of the 2017 summer class were minorities, which is a percentage point higher than the year before and six points higher than 2007. Women also hold more leadership positions than they have in the past, serving in increasing numbers on law firm executive committees, as heads of office and practice leaders, the report notes. Almost 24 percent of management committee members are female, as are 24 percent of attorneys leading practice departments and 21 percent of U.S. office heads, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).
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The American Lawyer released its 15th annual A-List rankings of the top 20 “most well-rounded” law firms in the United States. Firms are ranked based on a combination of factors including revenue per lawyer, pro bono commitment, racial diversity, associate satisfaction and percentage of female equity partners.
Munger Tolles ranked No. 1 on this year’s A-List. Climbing from last year’s number two, the firm moved up thanks to high scores in diversity, pro bono work, and number of female equity partners. Ropes & Gray came in second place on the A-List with high scores in almost all categories except for diversity. Paul, Weiss jumped 23 spots to claim the No.3 spot, thanks to a strong female equity score and significant increase in associate satisfaction. Kirkland & Ellis landed spot No. 17, slipping from 8th place last year, due to a decrease in its associate satisfaction and diversity scores. Skadden Arps moved up four spots to claim 12th place, thanks to an increase in its associate satisfaction and pro bono scores.
New firms added to AmLaw’s A-List were Paul, Weiss (No.3), Sherman & Sterling (No.8), Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (No.14), Manatt, Phelps & Phillips (No. 15), Arnold & Porter (No.16), and Hughes Hubbard & Reed (No.19).
Additionally, The American Lawyer released a list of the next 20 A-List firms (No. 21-40), The A-List Runners Up. A few firms on the list made last year’s Top 20 but faced shortcomings in vital areas, forcing them off in 2017. Those firms were Morrison & Foerster (No. 22), Jenner & Block (No. 23), Sullivan & Cromwell (No. 24), Willkie Farr & Gallagher (No. 25), and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton (No. 26).
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In a profession “less diverse than doctors or engineers [who are] 88 percent white,” says Danielle Holley-Walker, dean of Howard University Law, the legal community is still struggling with diversity (as quoted in the ABA Journal). In fact, the recently released Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey found that out of 250 law firms, an overwhelming 84 percent of attorneys self-identify as white/Caucasian, with only 3 percent identifying as African-American, 6 percent as Asian-American, and another 3 percent as Hispanic/Latino. The report also concluded that while the recruitment of minorities has slightly increased, the attrition of these minority attorneys is still occurring at a disproportionate rate.
Perhaps even more alarming is the ‘double jeopardy’ plight of minority women in law. The ABA Journal reported in their March issue headliner that an astounding 85-percent of U.S. minority female attorneys will quit their large firms within seven years of starting their practice. And, minority racial status aside, “women account for only 18 percent of equity partners in the Am Law 200 and earn 80 percent of what their male counterparts do for comparable work, hours, and revenue generation,” reported the 2015 survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers (as quoted in the ABA Journal). Add race back in to find that minority women accounted for a mere 2.55 percent of partners in 2015, rendering them the “most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level, a pattern [holding] across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions,” (NALP, as reported by the ABA Journal).
So, in light of the many disturbing statistics, what can and are law firms doing today to help bridge the inequality gap? Howard law dean Holley-Walker suggests that young minority lawyers should make an extra effort to build relationships with partners, who serve to not only mentor them now, but eventually to act as a sponsor, ready to “go to bat” for the younger attorney (as quoted in the ABA Journal).
And it appears that some firms are already going the extra mile. Above the Law released the results of their 2016 Law Firm Gender Diversity Index, which classified over 200,000 attorneys and assigned grades based on each firm’s gender diversity statistics. Milwaukee-based Quarles & Brady stood out in the top six of all firms, and was awarded an A+.