Major Law Firms Hire Fewer Women and Minorities

Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2010

The nation’s biggest law firms had been making impressive strides in hiring women, people of color and those with disabilities–until the recession dried up legal spending and wiped out more than 5,800 lawyers’ jobs.

After two years of layoffs and hiring deferrals, the proportions of women and minorities at major law firms dropped in 2010 for the first time since industry analysts began collecting demographic hiring data in the 1990s.

The statistical setbacks have been marginal–less than one percentage point in each group–but they concern affirmative action advocates and law firm recruiters who fear long-term damage to the quest for lawyers who reflect the clientele and communities they serve.

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“I do not think that layoffs or reductions in force were done in a race-conscious way or a biased way. {snip},” said James Leipold, executive director of the Washington-based association [the National Assn. for Law Placement].

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Leipold said he expects to see the consequences of the diversity setbacks in seven years or so, when firms are reviewing candidates for partnership and will be seeing fewer minorities and women in the pool of contenders.

Association figures showing slight drops in women and minority representation mirrored the results of other recent studies by the American Lawyer magazine, the Minority Corporate Counsel Assn. and the American Bar Assn.’s Commission on Women in the Profession.

“Hispanics, the country’s fastest-growing minority group, already make up more than 15% of the U.S. population, but less than 5% of all lawyers are Hispanic. That’s a big disparity,” said Stephen N. Zack, American Bar Association president.

{snip} The advancement statistics for racial minorities are even more dire, with people of color accounting for only about 6% of those sharing in their firm’s profits. Minority women are 2% of partners nationwide, consistently the most under-represented demographic, according to the studies.

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