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Diversity and Representation in the Legal Industry

As seen in the 2023 Spring Quarterly by the MDLA

In recent years we have seen momentum from the private sector to create more equitable and inclusive opportunities. However, with a growing number of clients looking to hire businesses that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, there is a need for greater clarity on the initiatives that work.

Despite the strong push for diversity and inclusion over the years, the legal industry still struggles with a diversity problem.[1] Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are becoming more substantial in the legal profession.[2] However, law firms have long been the target of criticism for the underrepresentation of diverse lawyers among their partnership ranks.

Notably, one of the areas the legal profession has struggled with is providing equal opportunities for women practicing attorneys. This number decreases even further when accounting for the number of minority women practicing attorneys.

According to the American Bar Association, 37% of practicing attorneys are women, although they account for 50.8% of the U.S. population.[3] Additionally, men still outnumber women in equity partner positions nearly 5 to 1.[4] Only 4.7% of practicing attorneys are Black, and about 10% of attorneys are of other racial minority groups.[5]

Since 2010, the combined representation of individuals in minority racial and ethnic groups has grown by 6%. The number of Black attorneys has increased by less than 1%. The percentage of women attorneys has risen by only 4.6%. Based on this calculation, it will take the legal profession 30 years for the demographics of the legal profession to reflect the demographics of today’s population.[6]

In 2020 the National Association for Law Placement “NALP” published the article “Slow, Incremental Progress Continues as People of Color and Women Remain Underrepresented at Law Firms.”[7] According to this report, the representation of female, minority, and minority female lawyers reached historic highs in 2020; however, the gain was small.[8] The representation of lawyers of color in law firms increased from 16.98% in 2019 to 17.95% in 2020; the representation of female lawyers of color increased from 8.73% in 2019 to 9.32% in 2020; and the representation of female lawyers increased from 36.33% in 2019 to 37.14% in 2020.[9]

The problem is systemic and widespread throughout the legal community. Many law firms are now taking an active approach in recruiting diverse candidates, yet, creating internal programs within the firm does not address the external struggle. There is a lack of diverse candidates entering the legal profession,[10] and an attainable solution must address the root of the problem.

How do we address a systemic problem from the outside? The answer is simple: we need to get involved in our communities. Below I offer a list of recommendations for keeping the diversity momentum going. I challenge you to pick one recommendation from this list to see if it makes a difference in your recruitment process.

  • Participant in minority job fairs
  • Partnered with various diverse bar organizations to announce attorney job openings to boost diverse candidates in the interviewing process
  • Increase Diversity in Summer Associate Program
  • Encourage existing attorneys to participate in minority bar associations
  • Expand active recruiting to include law schools with a more diverse population, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Historically Women’s Colleges
  • Make sure your diversity committee is active
  • Donate to and get involved with non-legal diverse organizations in the community
  • Most importantly, review your firm’s culture to ensure it is conducive and welcoming to recruiting and retaining diverse candidates

Tujuana McGee, Director
Office: Atlanta, GA | 678-951-1500