Summer associate class was most diverse ever, but industry challenges remain


NALP recently released its annual Report on Diversity at U.S. Law Firms, at The report, based on information from the 2021-2022 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE), shows that overall gains have been made at the summer associate level in the representation of women, summer associates of color, and LGBTQ summer associates at major U.S. law firms in 2021 as compared to 2020.

The percentage of summer associates of color grew by nearly 5 percentage points in a single year, the largest gain in the 29 years that NALP has been tracking this information. In addition, women made up more than half of all summer associates for the fourth year in a row, and the proportion of LGBTQ summer associates increased to 8.41%, also a historic high.

Key Findings:

The percentage of summer associates who are people of color grew by nearly 5 percentage points, increasing from 36.48% in 2020 to 41.34% in 2021 — the largest increase since NALP began tracking these data in 1993. The majority of this increase can be attributed to the rise in the percentage of summer associates who are women of color, which increased by 3 percentage points to 25.14% in 2021.

In 2021, the percentage of summer associates who are women also increased by 1.4 percentage points to 55.06%. Women accounted for more than half of all summer associates for the fourth year in a row.

While the percentage of LGBTQ lawyers overall grew by approximately one-third of a percentage point from 2020 to 2021, the percentage of LGBTQ summer associates continued to grow at a more accelerated rate, climbing 0.7 percentage points to 8.41% in 2021. Overall, 3.67% of all lawyers identified as LGBTQ.

Although the percentage of Black associates overall increased by one-tenth of a percentage point to 5.22%, the rate of growth in the proportion of associates who are Black lags behind that of Latinx and Asian associates.

The percentage of associates who were Latinx women in 2021 grew to 3.25%, surpassing the share of Black women associates (3.17%) for the first time.

Despite slight gains in 2021, just over 4% of all partners are women of color. Black women and Latinx women each continue to represent less than 1% of all partners in U.S. law firms.

Equity partners in multi-tier law firms continue to be disproportionately white men. In 2021, 22.0% of equity partners were women and only 9.0% were people of color.

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