Legal career network sees slow D&I advances in US law firms


Alex Baldwin

Legal career network sees slow D&I advances in US law firms

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Following a year of intense scrutiny on equity and inclusion in the legal profession, progress on diversifying the US legal system remains slow-but-steady, according to the latest report from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

The latest NALP diversity report highlighted the ‘incremental’ headway women and people of colour made at US law firms last year, now representing 3.31% of US lawyers. This marks the first time since the 2008 recession that black women surpassed 2.93% of associates.

Additionally, the overall percentage of black partners and associates exceeded 2% and 5% for the first time in 2020, but still trail behind that of Asian and Latinx contemporaries.

“Despite these increases,” writes James Leipold, executive director, NALP, “less than 4%of all partners are women of colour—a figure that remains abysmally low due to the significant underrepresentation of both women and people of colour at the partnership level and a pattern that holds true across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions. Worse, black women and Latinx women each continued to represent less than 1% of all partners in US law firms.”

Looking forward, NALP predicts this slow increase in diversifying associate ranks to continue through 2020 and the years to come. In response, Leipold urged the legal community to make strides to increase diversity among its ranks.

“The problems of racism and bias in American society are longstanding and run deep, dating back to our history of slavery, and the legal profession sits squarely in that history, but we are not bound by past practices and beliefs,” Leipold said.

“Let this time embolden all of us to renew our efforts to address more directly and more forcefully systemic bias and prejudice in the legal profession, and in particular the many ways that the profession has failed black lawyers and the black community.”

The number of lawyers who identified as LGBTQ saw a small increase of one-third of a percent in 2020, bringing the total to 3.31%. However, LGBTQ representation in summer associates grew at a much faster pace year-on-year, increasing by 0.8% from 6.86% in 2019 to 7.68% in 2020.

Last year also represented the first year that the NALP Directory of Legal Employees (NDLE) factored in non-binary lawyers in the count. 68.7% of the major US law firms surveyed provided counts, with a total of nine lawyers across the US identifying as non-binary.

NALP is an association of over 2,500 legal career professionals who advise law students, lawyers, law offices, and law schools in North America.

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