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Female and Minority Comeback in Recovering Law Firms

Vault Career IntelligenceData Suggests That As Firms Recover From Recession, Minority Attorneys Are Making A Comeback; Findings Also Highlight Ongoing Partnership Hurdles For Women And Minorities

New York, NY (September 27, 2011).  Vault.com, the source of employer rankings, ratings and insight for the legal industry, and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), the nation’s foremost authority on diversity issues in the legal profession, have released the results of this year’s Law Firm Diversity Survey in the Law Firm Diversity Database (http://mcca.vault.com). 

 The fully-searchable online tool features comprehensive data on diversity performance for over 300 law firms nationwide.  The Vault/MCCA data provides evidence that the legal profession is slowly recovering from the economic crisis and that progress for minority lawyers, which was halted — and, in some cases, reversed — in 2009, has moved forward again.  However, partnership prospects remain dim for most minority attorneys, as well as female attorneys.

Signs of Post-Recession Recovery

Following a difficult year of recession-fueled cutbacks in the legal industry, entry-level and lateral recruiting experienced a welcome uptick in 2010, although hiring remained well below 2007 levels.  Data also suggests that law firms are doing a better job of retaining lawyers.  In contrast to 2009, when law firms lost 2,661 more attorneys than they hired, in 2010 more attorneys were hired (12,374) than left their firms (10,254).

While the 2L summer associate class of 2010 was substantially smaller than previous classes (only 53 percent the size of the 2009 class and less than half the size of the 2007 and 2008 classes), the full-time offer rate returned to pre-recession levels, with 88.78% of 2Ls receiving permanent offers in 2010 (compared to just 72.82% in 2009).

Minority Attorneys Regaining Ground

Last year, Vault/MCCA survey data suggested that minority lawyers had been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn, with minority recruitment falling and departures rising.  In 2010, however, these attorneys regained some of the lost ground, as hiring and attrition returned to pre-recession rates and the proportion of minority equity partners grew.  Overall, the percentage of minority attorneys in the law firm population, which had fallen to 13.44% in 2009, climbed back to 2007 levels (13.77%).

In addition, the percentage of minority equity partners increased from 6.06% in 2009 to 6.29% in 2010 — the highest rate since 2003, when the Vault/MCCA survey was launched.  Furthermore, minority representation on executive/management committees continued to expand, from 5.42% in 2007 to 5.50% in 2009 and 5.76% in 2010.

With respect to recruitment, racial/ethnic minorities represented nearly 21 percent (20.98%) of all attorneys hired in 2010 — a notable increase over the 19.09% reported for 2009, though still below the levels for 2008 (21.77%) and 2007 (21.46%).  Within the 2L summer associate class, minority representation returned to 2008 levels.  Retention rates also improved in 2010: minority lawyers represented 18.98% of all attorneys who left their firms, compared to the 20.79% who left in 2009.

“We’re happy to see an upturn in minority recruitment and retention after the disturbing results from last year’s survey,” says Vera Djordjevich, Vault’s managing editor for research and consulting.  “The most encouraging news may be the advances made by minority lawyers within the top tiers of law firm hierarchies.  On the other hand, smaller summer class sizes means a narrower recruiting pipeline, while a relatively stagnant partnership leaves fewer opportunities for diverse attorneys to climb the partnership ladder.  Given these conditions, it’s hard to see how the ranks of minority partners in BigLaw will increase dramatically without corresponding increases in the proportions of minority law students hired and senior associates promoted.”

Partnership Remains Elusive Goal

This year’s Vault/MCCA survey data also highlights the increasingly elusive nature of partnership — especially for women and racial minorities.  Of the nearly 100,000 attorneys for whom law firms reported data in 2010, more than 42 percent are partners.  Yet, it appears that law firms are drawing more of their new partners, not from their own associate ranks, but from other firms.  Of the new partners (both equity and non-equity) reported by firms in 2010, more were hired laterally (1,622) than were promoted from within (1,471).

Of those associates and of counsel who do make partner, the majority are white men, despite the growing presence of women and minorities within the law firm population.  Even though women and racial minorities have made up more than half of law firm associates and nearly 60 percent of summer associates for the last eight years, white men continue to dominate the partnership ranks, representing more than 75 percent of all partners (75.89%) and almost 79 percent of equity partners (78.77%). 

“Benchmarking progress is essential work for MCCA and Vault and this survey has become the gold standard of demographic surveys of law firms,” said Joseph West, MCCA President and CEO. “However, the continuing lack of progress towards a more balanced demographic of partners within the law firm community suggests that some current firm leaders do not fully appreciate the importance of diversity.  They are not doing all that they can to include more diverse lawyers in leadership roles. MCCA will continue to help identify and to strive to break down the barriers that are excluding them from becomingpartners.”  

Data Shows Some Progress for Women and GLBT Attorneys

Women are making some gains at the equity level and as summer recruits.  Law firms also reported an increasing number of openly GLBT attorneys among their ranks.

The 2L summer associate class included the highest percentage of women (47.98%) in the last four years, as did the number of female 2Ls who received offers of permanent employment (47.58%).  Of all new equity partners hired or promoted in 2010, 21.45% were women, compared to 20.66% in 2009 and 20.96% in 2007.  Women’s membership on hiring committees also grew in 2010, as did their representation among office heads and practice group leaders.  On the other hand, the percentage of women serving on executive or management committees fell slightly, from 16.13% in 2009 to 15.74% in 2010.

The data for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) attorneys also shows some improvement.  In 2010, openly GLBT attorneys represented 1.75% of all new hires, compared to 1.43% in 2007.  In 2010, GLBT attorneys represented 1.77% of the law firm population as a whole.

About the Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Database

With widespread support from the general counsel and law firm communities, the Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Database has become the primary tool for measuring law firm diversity.  The database was initially developed in 2004 in cooperation with Accenture, Bank of America, Microsoft, PPG Industries, Sara Lee and Wal-Mart, to support the Call to Action, a corporate counsel initiative devoted to increasing diversity at U.S.  law firms, and is compiled from responses to an annual diversity survey.  This year, 265 law firms, including the majority of the Am Law 200, took part, offering a rare look at law firm demographics, with breakdowns by race/ethnicity and gender, GLBT attorneys and individuals with disabilities, as well as qualitative information regarding firms’ diversity plans and initiatives.

Through this free online tool (registration is required), the corporate counsel community, graduating law students and prospective employees can make side-by-side comparisons of diversity metrics, track firms’ progress over the last four years and evaluate their performance against industry-wide benchmarks.  With access also to law firms’ complete, self-reported survey responses, the database presents a comprehensive picture of the diversity commitment and programs at participating firms. 

About Vault

Vault.com is the source of employer and university rankings, ratings and insight for highly credentialed, in-demand candidates.  Vault.com is organized by profession, industry, company and schools.  Vault profiles, rankings and assessment tools deliver the insider perspective and career research candidates need to successfully match themselves to the best available job, employer and career opportunity.  The Vault.com website features profiles on more than 4,500 employers, 4,000 universities and hundreds of industries and professions, including the law, finance, accounting and consulting sectors.  Founded in 1996, Vault.com is the only career resource of its kind and attracts more than 1,000 employer and recruiter advertisers, more than 1,200 school and institutional subscribers and millions of individual visitors and members.

About the MCCA

The mission of the Minority Corporate Counsel Associationis to advance the hiring, retention, and promotion of diverse attorneys in legal departments and the law firms that serve them.  MCCA furthersits mission by publishing research on achieving diversity and best practices in the legal profession, honoring innovative diversity programs, and assisting diverse law students through the Lloyd M. Johnson, Jr. Scholarship Program. Founded in 1997, MCCA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and also has aSoutheast regionaloffice in Atlanta, Ga.  For more information, go to mcca.com.

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