Study: Representation of women among associates continues to fall

While women and minority partners continue to mark small gains in their representation among law firm partners as a whole, and while the percentage of minority associates has rebounded after falling in the wake of the recession, the percentage of women associates continues to fall compared to their male counterparts.

The latest National Association for Law Placement Inc. (NALP) findings on law firm demographics reveal that law firms have continued to make up most, but not all, of the ground lost when diversity figures fell in 2010. While the overall representation of minorities continued to inch up, the overall representation of women increased by only a very small amount, and all of this gain can be attributed to increases in women among the partnership ranks. Since the overall figure for women fell in 2011 compared to 2010, this small increase means that the overall percentage for women remains virtually flat compared to 2010.

In 2012, the percentage of both women and minority partners in law firms across the nation was up by a small amount compared with 2011. Among associates, however, representation of women declined slightly for the third year in a row and for only the third time since NALP started compiling this information in the 1990s. The net effect was that, for lawyers as a whole, representation of women was almost flat and remains lower than in 2009. Representation of minority women was up by a very small amount. For minorities as a whole, representation was up slightly. Minorities now make up 12.91 percent of lawyers at these law firms, compared with 12.70 percent in 2011. Just under one-third of lawyers at these same firms are women — 32.67 percent in 2012 compared with 32.61 percent in 2011 and 32.69 percent in 2010, all lower than the 32.97 percent mark reached in 2009. Minority women now account for 6.32 percent of lawyers at these firms, up a bit from 6.23 percent in 2011, and returning to a level comparable to the 6.33 percent figure for 2009. Among associates specifically, however, the representation of women has continued its incremental but steady slide from 45.66 percent in 2009 to 45.05 percent in 2012. Representation of minority women among associates is now just barely higher than the 11.02 percent figure for 2009.

During most of the 20 years that NALP has been compiling this information, law firms had made steady, if somewhat slow progress in increasing the presence of women and minorities in both the partner and associate ranks. In 2012 that slow upward trend continued for partners, with minorities accounting for 6.71 percent of partners in the nation’s major firms, and women accounting for 19.91 percent of the partners in these firms. In 2011, the figures were 6.56 percent and 19.54 percent, respectively. Nonetheless, the total change since 1993, the first year for which NALP has comparable aggregate information, has been only marginal. At that time minorities accounted for 2.55 percent of partners and women accounted for 12.27 percent of partners. Among associates, the percentage of women had increased from 38.99 percent in 1993 to 45.66 percent in 2009, before falling back each year since. Over the same period, minority percentages have increased from 8.36 percent to 20.32 percent, more than recovering from a slight decline from 2009 to 2010.

Minority women continue to be the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level, a pattern that holds across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions. Minority women make up just over 2 percent of the partners in the nation’s major law firms. At just 2.16 percent of partners in 2012, this group continues to be particularly underrepresented in the partnership ranks, despite a small increase from 2.04 percent in 2011. The representation of minority women partners is somewhat higher, 2.62 percent, at the largest firms of more than 700 lawyers. Minority men, meanwhile, account for just 4.55 percent of partners this year, almost unchanged from 4.52 percent in 2011. At the associate level, minorities account for 20.32 percent of associates, up from 19.90 percent in 2011, and minority women account for 11.08 percent of associates, a small increase from 10.96 percent in 2011, and only a bit higher than the 11.02 percent figure reached in 2009.

These are the most significant findings of NALP’s recent analyses of the 2012-2013 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE), the annual compendium of legal employer data published by NALP.

“In 2010, on the heels of the recession, we saw the figures for women and minority associates dip for the first time since NALP began tracking lawyer demographics at law firms. Since then we have seen the figures for minority associates steadily bounce back, but the overall representation of women associates has continued to decline. This is a significant and troubling trend,” said James Leipold, NALP’s executive director.

“While the percentage of women partners, small as it is, has continued to grow, that incremental growth will likely become unsustainable if the percentage of women associates continues to inch downward. The 2012 data suggest that the temporary setback for minority representation brought on by recession-era layoffs has been effectively reversed but that the decline in the representation of women among associates has not been stemmed. The continued loss of women from the associate ranks, at a time when far too few women make up the partners of U.S. law firms, is a problem that firms must begin to address head-on,” Leipold concluded.

The representation of women and minorities in the summer associate ranks compares much more favorably to the population of recent law school graduates. According to the American Bar Association, since 2000 the percentage of minority law school graduates has ranged from 20 percent to 24 percent, while women have accounted for 46 percent to 49 percent of graduates, with the high point coming in the mid-2000s. Women comprise 46.26 percent of summer associates, minorities 29.55 percent, and minority women 16.26 percent of summer associates in 2012. However, even as the representation of minority women has increased from 12.90 percent in 2009 to 16.26 percent in 2012, representation of women as a whole has fallen to below its 2009 level of 46.62 percent, after reaching 47.71 percent in 2011. In addition, the overall number of summer associates remains off by over 30 percent compared with 2009, despite increases in the numbers since then.

Analyses for the 42 cities with the most lawyers represented in the directory reveal considerable variations in measures of racial/ethnic diversity. Representation of women among partners ranges from 13 percent in Salt Lake City and Northern Virginia to about one-quarter in Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach, Seattle, and San Francisco. Percentages for minority partners range from less than 2 percent in Grand Rapids and just over 2 percent in Pittsburgh to a high of 27.30 percent in Miami. The newest NDLE data also reveal that representation of minority women among partners varies considerably by geographic location, with firms in Miami reporting the highest level of representation, at 7.83 percent. This contrasts with 13 cities where minority women make up less than 1 percent of partners. Likewise percentages for women associates ranged from 25 percent in Salt Lake City to close to half or more in Minneapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Grand Rapids. For minority associates the range was from 7.80 percent in Cleveland to over 36 percent in Miami and the San Jose area. The range for minority women associates was from 1.77 percent in Salt Lake City to 16-17 percent in Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the San Jose area.

Among the largest of these cities (those with more than 900 partners represented), Los Angeles and San Francisco show the highest representation of women, minorities, and minority women among both partners and associates. Minorities account for 12.42 percent and 10.78 percent of partners in these two cities, respectively, and women account for 19.96 percent and 24.85 percent of partners, respectively. Figures for minority women are 3.98 percent and 3.96 percent, respectively. Firms in Seattle and Washington, D.C., also at least slightly exceed national averages on most measures.

Among smaller cities, Miami exceeds national averages, and San Jose and Orange County, CA, do so with respect to minority associates. In Miami, women account for 23.65 percent of partners; minorities, many of whom are Hispanic, account for 27.30 percent of partners, and 7.83 percent of partners are minority women. In the San Jose area almost 37 percent of associates are minorities and almost 17 percent are minority women. In Orange County, CA, almost one-quarter of associates are minorities, though the percentage of minority women, at just over 10 percent is somewhat below average.

In many other cities, the picture is considerably different: Cities that are below average on most or all measures and considerably so with respect to minorities include Charlotte, Cincinnati, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Kansas City, Nashville, Northern New Jersey, and Wilmington. Numerous others, such as Boston, Minneapolis, Portland, OR, and St. Louis are at or above average with respect to women, but lag on minority representation. In still other cities, such as Denver, Detroit, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and Raleigh, only the percentage of women partners is at or above average. These findings reflect in part considerable contrasts in the population as a whole in these areas. For example, according to recent population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the Grand Rapids and Pittsburgh areas is only about 20 percent minority (that is, Hispanic or non-White.) In contrast, at over 70 percent Hispanic or non-White, the population of Los Angeles can be characterized as majority minority. But minority representation within law firms does not always parallel minority representation within the overall population of an area. For example, in the Charlotte area, almost half the population is minority, but this diversity is not reflected among lawyers working in law firms in that city.

Among summer associates, minorities have the highest representation in Miami, Portland, OR, and San Jose, where 43-44 percent are minority. Representation of minority women among summer associates is highest in Detroit, San Francisco, and the San Jose area.

The directory also collects information about lawyers with disabilities, though this information is much less widely reported than information on race/ethnicity and gender, making it much harder to say anything definitive about the representation of lawyers with disabilities. The information that is available suggests that partners with disabilities (of any race or gender) are scarce, with just one-third of 1 percent of partners reported as having a disability, though the figure is higher than the less than one-quarter of one percent figures for the prior two years. Similarly, associates with disabilities account for a tiny fraction, just 0.24 percent, of associates in law firms, but again this is a higher figure than in the past two years. Although the presence of individuals with disabilities among law school graduates is not precisely known, other NALP research suggests that somewhat fewer than 2 percent of graduates self-identify as having a disability.

The 2012-2013 NDLE includes attorney race/ethnicity and gender information for almost 118,000 partners, associates, and other lawyers in 1,209 offices, and for almost 6,500 summer associates in 790 offices nationwide. Information on disability status was reported for not quite 86,000 of these lawyers.

The 2012-2013 NALP Directory of Legal Employers, which provides the individual firm listings on which these aggregate analyses are based, is available online at