What Happened to Big Law’s Black Lawyers?

Image: Mabl.org
Image: Mabl.org

Why are there so few black lawyers in the big law firms?

A recent survey says there are only three percent of lawyers in BigLaw who are African American and their numbers are actually declining with fewer than two percent being partners.

The numbers have declined since the economic downturn according to American Lawyer’s Diversity Scorecard report.

“The recession was a disaster for lawyers of all minorities at large firms; they were almost twice as likely to be laid off as their white peers,” the story says. “Between 2008 and 2009, the number of minority lawyers at the nation’s largest firms dropped by 9 percent, mostly associates.

Although the numbers of Asian-American and Hispanic lawyers have since rebounded past prerecession levels, black lawyer head count has simly slid further down.

The percentage of black lawyers at the largest firms is now at a level not seen since 2000: 3 percent of all lawyers, down from 3.1 percent in 2012.”

Asian-Americans are the largest group of minorities in law firms, amounting to 6.3 percent of the lawyers and 2.7 percent of the partners. Hispanics account for 3.2 percent of the lawyers and 2.3 percent of the partners.

The numbers were even worse in the American Lawyer’s statistics on equity partnerships at America’s largest 100 law firms. Out of 77 Am Law 100 firms that reported minority numbers for equity partnerships, 31 either had no African American equity partners or just one. Only one firm, Jones Day, had more than 10—it had a dozen, which amounts to 1.8 percent of its equity partners.

“What has gone so wrong?” the American Lawyer asks.

“Pressures within law firms that began during the recession have made partnership both a more difficult and less attractive proposition for black lawyers. Meanwhile, the pipeline has narrowed. As firms keep associate classes smaller, fewer black lawyers are moving into firms; the black law graduates who are tapped by elite firms continue to be a small group of high-ranking students from first- or second-tier law schools. Finally, a mid-2000s push by corporations to compel their outside counsel to diversify has receded, displaced by concerns over law firm pricing.”

The story also points to recent research that “paint[s] an alarming picture of the continuing presence of unconscious racial bias at firms.”

Which firms had the greatest percentage of minority lawyers? According to the article, the top firm is White & Case, with 27.5 percent minority lawyers and 21.8 percent partners. Numbers 2 and 3 were Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith.

Source: American Lawyer & ABA Journal
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