US law firm diversity stats reveal ‘meagre gains’: NALP report


Sarah Morgan

US law firm diversity stats reveal ‘meagre gains’: NALP report /

Only one in five equity partners in US law firms are women and less than 8% are people of colour, according to a report from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

Released on Wednesday, December 18, the NALP’s “2019 Report on Diversity in US Law Firms” outlined the progress made on diversity in US law firms.

At partnership level, women, people of colour, and women of colour all made small improvements in representation at the partner level in 2019. According to the report, most of the increase in representation of partners of colour since 2009 can be attributed to an increase of Asian and Latinx men partners in particular.

Women of colour remain the most underrepresented of all, with Asian women making up just 1.46% of law firm partners, Latinx women making up just 0.80% of law firm partners, and Black or African-American women making up just 0.75% of law firm partners.

While women of colour are the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level, the percentage of partners that are women of colour has nearly doubled since 2009, growing from 1.88% in 2009 to 3.45% in 2019.

James Leipold, NALP executive director, said: “The overall arc of the storyline for large law firm diversity remains the same—it is one of slow incremental gains for women and people of colour in both the associate and partnership ranks, interrupted by some recession-era setbacks, but at a rate so slow as to almost seem imperceptible at times.”

Black or African-American representation among associates in US law firms have finally eclipsed the pre-recession level reached in 2009, although only by just one-tenth of a percentage point.

“While that is a positive sign, it is barely so, and it strikes me as somewhat of a tragedy that it has taken more than 10 years to achieve such a meagre benchmark, and it is notable that the number remains well below five percent,” said Leipold.

The report added that women and people of colour continue to be well represented in law school and in the summer associate class. However, each year after that, women and people of colour leave the lawyer ranks at law firms at a higher rate than white men.

The percentage of LGBT lawyers overall only grew by approximately one-tenth of a percentage point from 2018 to 2019, but nearly 7% of all summer associates were reported as LGBT.

Lawyers with disabilities remain vastly underreported. Only about one half of one percent of all lawyers in large law firms report having a disability, a figure that is “dramatically at odds with the numbers of students in both the undergraduate and law school settings who report having disabilities”, said the NALP.

Leipold concluded: “Having watched these numbers carefully for more than 15 years, I have become convinced that despite steady gains, great structural and cultural hurdles remain that prevent law firms from being able to measure more rapid progress in increasing diversity, particularly among the partnership ranks.”

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Diversity, gender diversity, NALP, National Association for Law Placement, women of colour, diversity and inclusion, partner representation, LGBT