Diverse Attorneys Making Progress but Still Behind on Partne

Published: Sep 27, 2011


Last year, data from our annual Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey suggested that minority lawyers had been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn, with previously reported gains halted—in some cases, reversed—in 2009. The latest survey results, however, provide evidence that the legal profession is slowly recovering from the economic crisis and that progress for minority lawyers has moved forward again. (These findings have been confirmed by reports from The American Lawyer and NALP.) Still, the rate of progress remains, for the most part, disappointingly slow. The Vault/MCCA survey data also highlights the increasingly elusive nature of partnership, especially for women and racial minorities.


This spring we surveyed more than 260 law firms around the country, including most of the largest and most prestigious national law firms, as well as smaller regional firms, on their diversity initiatives, programs and demographics. The results, which include statistics for the 2010 calendar year, have been released in the new edition of the Law Firm Diversity Database.

Some of the key findings:

Law Firm Attorney Population as of Dec. 31, 2010

Signs of post-recession recovery


  • •   Entry-level and lateral recruiting experienced an uptick in 2010, although hiring remained well below 2007 levels. In 2009, firms brought in just 9,227 new lawyers; in 2010, that number climbed to 12,374. (For comparison: 16,465 were hired in 2008 and 18,426 in 2007.)
  • •   Law firms also did a better job of retaining lawyers. In contrast to 2009, when firms lost 2,661 more attorneys than they hired, in 2010, firms not only shed fewer attorneys (10,254, compared to 11,888), but they also hired 2,120 more lawyers than they lost.
  • •   While the 2010 summer associate class was substantially smaller than previous classes (only 53 percent the size of the 2009 class and less than half the size of the 2007 and 2008 classes), a much higher proportion of 2Ls received offers to return as full-time associates. Firms made permanent offers to nearly 90 percent (88.78%) of 2Ls in 2010 (compared to just 72.82% in 2009), bringing the offer rate back up to pre-recession levels.

Minority attorneys regain some ground

  • •   The percentage of minority attorneys in the law firm population, which had fallen to 13.44% in 2009, climbed back to 13.72%, nearly as high as 2007 (13.77%).
  • •   The percentage of minority equity partners, which had remained virtually static at 6.06% in 2009, increased to 6.29% in 2010—the highest rate since 2003, when the Vault/MCCA survey was launched.
  • •   Minority representation on executive/management committees also continued to expand, from 5.42% in 2007 to 5.50% in 2009 and 5.76% in 2010.
  • •   Racial/ethnic minorities represented nearly 21 percent (20.98%) of all attorneys hired in 2010—a notable increase over the 19.09% reported for 2009, though still below the levels for 2008 (21.77%) and 2007 (21.46%).
  • •   Retention rates also improved: 18.98% of all attorneys who left their firms in 2010 were attorneys of color, compared to the 20.79% who left in 2009.

Progress for women

  • •   The 2L summer associate class included the highest percentage of women (47.98%) in the last four years, as did the portion of female 2Ls who received offers of permanent employment (47.58%).
  • •   Of all new equity partners hired or promoted in 2010, 21.45% were women, compared to 20.66% in 2009 and 20.96% in 2007.
  • •   Women’s membership on hiring committees also grew in 2010, along with their representation among office heads and practice group leaders. On the other hand, the percentage of women serving on executive or management committees fell slightly, from 16.13% in 2009 to 15.74% in 2010.

GLBT population slowly growing

  • •   In 2010, openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) represented 1.77% of the law firm population, reflecting a steady increase since the 1.58% reported in 2007.[1]
  • •   In 2010, GLBT attorneys represented 1.75% of all new hires, compared to 1.43% in 2007.

Partnership remains elusive goal, especially for minorities and women 

  • •   Of the nearly 100,000 attorneys for whom law firms reported data in 2010, more than 42 percent are partners. Yet it appears that law firms are drawing more new partners, not from their own associate ranks, but from other firms.
  • •   Of the new partners (both equity and non-equity) reported by firms in 2010, more were hired laterally (1,622) than were promoted from within (1,471).
  • The total number of lawyers promoted to partnership has declined each year since 2007. Of those associates and of counsel who do make partner, the majority (more than 60 percent) are white men.
  • •   Even though women and racial minorities have made up more than half of law firm associates and nearly 60 percent of summer associates for the last eight years, white men continue to dominate the partnership ranks, representing more than 75 percent of all partners (75.89%) and almost 79 percent of equity partners (78.77%).


    2010 Law Firm Hiring and Promotion, by Race and Gender

                                                               Source: Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Database


    After the disturbing results from last year’s survey, the upturn in minority recruitment and retention is certainly welcome. The most encouraging news may be the advances made by minority lawyers within the top tiers of law firm hierarchies.

    On the other hand, smaller summer class sizes means a narrower recruiting pipeline, while a relatively stagnant partnership leaves fewer opportunities for diverse attorneys to climb the partnership ladder. Given these conditions, it’s hard to see how the ranks of minority partners in BigLaw will increase dramatically without corresponding increases in the proportions of minority law students hired and senior associates promoted.

    For more industry-wide findings as well as individual law firm statistics, check out the complete survey results. Access to the database is free; it just requires registration to set up a password. In addition to demographic statistics, you’ll find descriptions of law firms’ recruitment efforts and retention initiatives, pipeline programs and ways in which they hold their leadership accountable for diversity progress.

      [1]Note that a small percentage of participating firms do not track or report GLBT data.


      --By Vera Djordjevich, Vault.com

       Read More

      Law firm diversity progress stalled by economy, according to survey results [The American Lawyer]