Report: Women, minorities under-represented at law firms

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) recently released its 2017 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms based on the recent analyses of the 2017-2018 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE) — the annual compendium of legal employer data published by NALP. 

The report shows that women and Black/African-Americans made small gains in representation at major U.S. law firms in 2017 compared with 2016. 

However, representation of both these groups remains below 2009 levels.

Significant findings include:

• Representation of women, minorities, and minority women among associates saw small gains in 2017, but representation of women and African Americans is still below pre-recession levels.

• In 2017, representation of women, minorities, and minority women among partners in law firms across the nation all increased a small amount over 2016.

• Representation of women among lawyers as a whole was up, has more than recouped losses in 2010, 2011, and 2015, and has exceeded the 2009 level since 2014.

• The representation of women and minorities in the summer associate ranks compares much more favorably to the population of recent law school graduates, though representation of minorities as a whole was unchanged from 2016.

• Lawyers with disabilities (of any race or gender) are scarce, both at the associate and partner levels.

• The percentage of LGBT lawyers has generally been trending upward over the period since 2002 when NALP first began compiling these figures, and small increases from 2016 to 2017 occurred across all lawyer types.

The survey results “mirror recent findings by other national organizations, including the Minority Corporate Counsel Association and the National Association of Women Lawyers, in showing that women and minority partners remain fairly dramatically under-represented at U.S. law firms,” said James Leipold, NALP executive director.

“The good news is that since the setbacks measured in the associate ranks in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the data show that incremental net positive changes continue to be measured year-over-year for most groups,” he said.

Women and minorities are better represented among the partnership and associate ranks than they were in 2016, he said, “though only incrementally so.

“Nevertheless, at the associate level, women and African-Americans remain less well-represented than they were before the recession, a finding that is both discouraging and significant.”

Leipold said the findings also showed “that the national aggregate numbers tell only part of the story.”

“There are significant differences by law firm size and geography, and there are many jurisdictions where the disparities in representation are stark,” he said.

He noted that in Miami, 33 percent of partners “are minority while in Boston the figure stands at just five percent, or that in New York City 27 percent of associates are minority while in the racially diverse city of Charlotte minorities make up just 14 percent of associates.”

In northern Virginia, Leipold noted, there were no minority men in the 2017 summer associate class.

The 2017-2018 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE) includes attorney race/ethnicity and gender information for more than 112,000 partners, associates, and other lawyers in 1,082 offices, and for over 7,000 summer associates in 804 offices nationwide. The NDLE is available online at