Survey: Diversity hiring up at big law firms

A national survey conducted by the American Bar Association shows that large law firms hired more Hispanic, Black and Asian associates in 2020 than in 2019.

The study also showed that law firm leaders are still mostly white male attorneys, though the number of Hispanic, Asian and Black equity partners is slowly rising.

These are some of the findings of the second ABA Model Diversity Survey.

The ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession surveyed 287 law firms across the country with a total of more than 100,000 attorneys.

The survey measured firms’ demographics, hiring, promotions, leadership, highest compensated partners, attrition and diversity initiatives.

The survey stems from a 2016 ABA resolution that urges legal service providers to expand opportunities for diverse attorneys and urges companies buying legal services to direct more business toward diverse attorneys.

The survey results give companies an easy to way to assess the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts of law firms with which they work.

A public report includes nationwide results.

Private reports show how law firms compare with each other. The individual law firm reports are available to companies that sign the ABA pledge to encourage diversity among law firm attorneys.

The new Model Diversity Survey report does not make recommendations, but here are some findings:

• Large law firms hired 1.5% more Hispanic associates, nearly 1% more Black associates and roughly 0.6% more Asian associates in 2000 than in 2019. They hired 4% fewer white associates.

• Approximately 60% to 70% of law firm leaders in 2020 were white male attorneys. The number varied depending on the law firm’s size. Another 20% to 25% were white female attorneys, 5% to 8% were racially and ethnically underrepresented male attorneys, and 2% to 5% were racially and ethnically underrepresented female attorneys.

• The vast majority of equity partners (81% to 93%, depending the firm’s size) were white attorneys, but that number dipped slightly (nearly 2%) among large law firms in 2020. At the same time, the number of Hispanic, Asian, Black and multiracial equity partners rose slightly.

• Black and Asian attorneys experienced the greatest attrition from law firms – 23% and 19% respectively in 2020. Attrition was higher among female lawyers (16%) than male lawyers (11%), regardless of law firm size.

• For the most recent year, most law firms did not hire a single attorney who self-identified as either Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+ or having a disability.

• White attorneys were almost twice as likely to be hired into partnership roles as other racial groups. Men were twice as likely to be hired into equity partner roles as women. Female attorneys were substantially more likely to be hired as associates.

• LGBTQ+ attorneys were substantially less likely to be hired into partnership roles compared to non-LGBTQ+ attorneys.

• Attorneys with a disability are underreported or underrepresented at every level.