Early on in the ABA’s most recent annual diversity Survey Report, the authors quote the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. The bottom line from this year’s Survey is summed up in one sentence from the Report: “White attorneys, male attorneys, non-LGBTQ+ attorneys, and attorneys without disabilities dominate in representation within law firms and therefore in hires, promotions, leadership, and compensation”.
The Survey confirms pretty much what all the other similar Surveys from the ABA and elsewhere show year after year. Let’s face it: by and large, the legal profession is one of the last bastions of old white male domination. From equity partnership to compensation to associate hiring, being a white male entitles you to the keys to the legal kingdom. I have written about this here and here and here and here and here. You have to wonder what needs to happen for there to be any significant change.
This year’s Survey was released on May 22nd by the ABA’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity. This is the second annual Report on diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) in law firm practice, which is based on the Model Diversity Survey data. Those surveyed were from 287 law firms. 100,285 attorneys participated.
This Survey is based on 2020 law firm demographics and thus may not reflect the entire impact of the pandemic. In addition to the statistical findings, this year’s report highlights the few statistical changes from the first report, which was based on 2019 data.
The Report offers some nine “findings” and offers some key other statistics, almost all of which are depressing. The findings:
- There was a small increase in the percentage of white partners but a decline in the percentages of racially and ethnically underrepresented, female, and LGBTQ+ partners
- Sadly, the attrition rates for African-American/Black and Asian attorneys were the largest among racial groups.
- In 2020, most law firms did not hire a single attorney self-identified as either Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+, or having a disability. Not one.
- White attorneys were almost twice as likely to become partners roles than other racial groups
- Male attorneys were twice as likely to make equity partner as female attorneys. Female attorneys were substantially more likely to be hired as associates versus male attorneys.
- LGBTQ+ attorneys were substantially less likely to be made partners than non-LGBTQ+ attorneys.
- Attorneys with a disability were underrepresented at every level.
- The number of racially and ethnically underrepresented attorneys and white female attorneys who lead firm-wide committees, serve on compensation committees and serve as hiring partners actually went down. The number of white men in leadership positions increased substantially n 2020.
- The representation of LGBTQ+ attorneys on partner review committees did increase but the numbers who lead local offices, practice groups or departments went down.
All this despite all the talk about the need for diversity. Obviously, the number of firms that just want to talk about diversity dwarfs those that are actually committed.
And as if the formal findings weren’t depressing enough, some of the statistics from the Survey frankly make me want to throw up:
- For both years and all firm sizes, male attorneys constituted the highest percentages of equity partners. The average male and female equity partner percentages were 80% and 20%.
- White attorneys constituted the highest percentages of associates (from 70% to 79%) within firms. The overwhelming majority of associate hires (approximately 70%) were white men. Obviously, we aren’t going to see much diversity change in partnership ranks for some time to come, if ever.
- White attorneys compose 77% to 100% of equity partners’ ranks. The majority of promotions from associate to either equity and non-equity partner were white (75% to 89%). The majority of associates who became equity partners were white (roughly between 60% to 70%)
- 60% of the associates who made non-equity partners were male.
- 60% — 70% of those in firm leadership positions were white men.
- The top 10% of the highest paid attorneys (and thus those with real power in the firm) were “overwhelmingly dominated” by white men (approximately 71%). Only 13% of white females were among the most highly paid.
Equity partners are mainly white men. The associates being hired are mainly white men. Those who are in leadership positions are mostly white. And the highest paid lawyers? Again almost all white
I think you get the picture. Equity partners are mainly white men. The associates being hired are mainly white men. Those who are in leadership positions are mostly white. And the highest paid lawyers? Again almost all white.
Quite honestly, it’s hard to know what to say about these numbers. How professionally embarrassing they really are. Other than lip service, there is consistently almost no diversity progress. And it’s not just at the law firm level. We see similar statistics for in-house legal departments and the judiciary.
How can we expect respect for our legal system and profession when we so poorly reflect society in general and those who we allegedly and supposedly serve?
Oh, when will we ever learn?
Pete Seeger, Where Have All The Flowers Gone?