Latest Survey Shows Slow Improvements in Law Firm Diversity

Published: Sep 19, 2013

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Results of the most recent Law Firm Diversity Survey, conducted jointly by Vault and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), show that minority and women attorneys at law firms are making steady advancements, but are still far from achieving full parity.

The findings are from the 10th annual Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey conducted in the spring of 2013. Participants included more than 230 law firms, representing virtually all of the Vault Law 100 and AmLaw 100, and a majority of the NLJ 250. The survey collects quantitative data on the numbers of attorneys who are minorities, women, GLBT, or individuals with disabilities, as well as qualitative information regarding firms’ diversity plans and initiatives.

This year’s survey results provide evidence of some progress for attorneys of color at virtually all levels within law firms, from the recruitment of summer associates and hiring of laterals to the promotion of partners and accession to leadership roles. However, advances remain slow, especially at the leadership level.  Minorities and women now make up more than 40 percent of law firm attorneys, but nearly 75 percent of partners are white men.

Moreover, as reported in connection with last year’s survey, the data raise concerns that progress for black lawyers has stalled. For example, while the number of Hispanic and Latino students among summer associates is increasing, the percentage of African-American attorneys hired has declined.

Some highlights from the Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Database help illustrate these findings:

  • The percentage of minority attorneys has increased modestly over the last four years, from 13.44 percent in 2009 to 14.27 percent in 2012.
  • The past year showed an uptick in the hiring of minority lawyers and law students. At 28.11 percent, the 2012 summer associate class included the highest representation of minorities in the last six years. And the percentage of minority attorneys hired rebounded from a low of 19.09 percent in 2009 to 21.67 percent in 2012.
  • About one in eight attorneys (13.09 percent) promoted to partner in 2012 was a member of a racial/ethnic minority group.
  • Minority attorneys are gaining representation within law firm leadership. In 2012, attorneys of color represented 6.29 percent of management/executive committee members, up from 5.42 percent in 2007.
  • Retention of minority attorneys remains a concern. Minorities made up 14.27 percent of attorneys at law firms in 2012, but they represented 19.88 percent of lawyers who left their firms that year.
  • The percentage of African-American lawyers among surveyed firms has been decreasing each year since reaching 3.62 percent in 2007, falling to 3.05 percent in 2012. The overall percentage of black associates fell from 5.11 percent in 2007 to 4.23 percent in 2012.
  • Hispanics and Asians are the segments of the minority population that have seen the most consistent gains in the Vault/MCCA survey. The percentage of Hispanic/Latino lawyers promoted to partner increased from 3.03 percent in 2007 to 4.04 percent in 2012, and they represented 3.16 percent of all attorneys. Asian Americans now account for 6.44 percent of the law firm population, and 10.23 percent of attorneys hired in 2012 were of Asian descent.
  • The number of women lawyers stood at 33.66 percent in 2012, a number that has held fairly steady since 2007. The number of women associates — 45.05 percent of the law firm population — also hasn’t changed significantly since 2007.
  • More women are joining their firms’ partnerships. The percentage of attorneys promoted to partner who were female was 33.06 percent in 2012, up from 30.03 percent in 2007. Women have also been making inroads into the equity tier, rising from 16.05 percent of equity partners in 2007 to 17.88 percent in 2012.
  • Women are also gaining ground in firm management. Women now represent 17.81 percent of executive or management committee members, compared to 14.81 percent in 2007.
  • There has been a slight decrease in overall attrition by female attorneys over the last few years. The lowest rate was among midlevel lawyers, 45.92 percent of whom were women, the lowest since 2007. However, younger women did not fare as well. In 2012, 48.08 percent of first-year associates who left were women, and the number of departing third-year associates who were women reached a six-year high at 50.18 percent.
  • The number of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) lawyers reported by law firms has increased slightly over the last six years, from 1.58 percent in 2007 to 1.87 percent in 2012. The highest percentage of GLBT lawyers was reported for associates, 2.50 percent.
  • Survey data for attorneys with disabilities was less reliable since approximately one-third of reporting firms do not track or disclose disability information. However, the 2012 data indicates that less than one percent of the law firm population consists of attorneys with disabilities.
  • The majority of attorneys working part time are still women, but the number of male attorneys working part time grew significantly, from 23.88 percent in 2007 to 29.89 percent in 2012.

For the complete results of this year’s survey, along with law firm data for the previous five years, visit the Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Database at (Access is free.) A copy of the full press release issued last week in connection with the latest findings is also available for download.


Read more:

Survey Shows Slow, Steady Improvements in Law Firm Diversity [press release, PDF]

Are African-American Attorneys Losing Ground?

Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Database [requires free registration]