For centuries, the legal profession has had a well-deserved reputation for being a predominantly white, male profession. In recent years, however, law firms have purported to make great strides to increase diversity among their ranks, widely touting both their initiatives and actual success as a result of their efforts.
But just how diverse is the legal industry today? Are today’s law firms truly equal opportunity employers? Despite an intense spotlight on the issue of diversity for the last decade or two, the reality is that the legal industry continues to fall short on the diversity front when you look at the actual numbers, particularly as you move up the seniority ladder.
The following is a glimpse into the status of diversity in the legal profession today, and why it’s important for the legal industry to continue to diversify and aim for equality at all levels.
Legal Industry Diversity By the Numbers
Law360 recently released its fifth annual Diversity Snapshot, based on a survey of over 300 law firms, including 89 of the 100 largest U.S.-based law firms, which shed some discouraging light on the current state of diversity in the legal profession.
In terms of overall numbers, 16.4% of attorneys today are minorities, with rates at 9.5% for partners and 8.6% for equity partners. Non-partner attorneys showed the greatest diversity among their ranks, though minorities still only made up 21.9% of this group. Law.com cites similar numbers, placing the legal industry makeup at 19% women equity partners, 16.1% diverse attorneys, and 3.2% LGBT attorneys.
The results of the Law360 survey showed little change from the results of the same survey taken over each of the last five years, which suggests very little change in the diversity of the legal profession despite the purported efforts being widely touted by law firms.
The static numbers also stand in strong contrast to how the makeup of law school classes has changed in recent decades. For more than two decades, minorities have made up more than 20% of U.S. law school graduates, with that number recently surpassing 30% and reported rates even higher at some top-tier law schools.
As the Law360 survey shows, diversity rates shrink at every stage between law school enrollment and law firm leadership. ABA-accredited law schools are currently made up of 61.4% white students, which almost exactly matches the current percentage of whites making up the general U.S. population. However, non-partners at the law firms surveyed were 76.8% white, while partners were 89.9% white and heads of law firms were 91% white.
Why Diversity Matters
Improving diversity in the legal industry has significant implications beyond just improving equality in the profession, which is an important goal in its own right. By increasing diversity, law firms also stand to improve their work product and better attract and retain clients.
Time and again, studies have shown that diverse teams produce better results, thanks to a variety of viewpoints, skillsets, and creative ideas for solving problems. Particularly in an industry known for handling the most complex and inscrutable issues, an increase in perspectives significantly improves the likelihood of being able to come up with the valuable answers that clients are seeking for their problems.
Law firms are also increasingly seeing diversification within their client ranks, with minorities making up a greater percentage of the country’s workforce with every passing year. Those clients increasingly want to hire lawyers who not only care about their legal interests, but mirror their values, beliefs, and priorities as well. Simply put, diverse clients want to be represented by diverse lawyers, and in the future, they’ll continue to demand more diversity from the legal profession.
Veritext, a recognized industry leader in providing cutting-edge deposition and litigation solutions, is committed to creating a diverse workforce that represents all the clients we serve. With over 1000 employees and 70+ brick-and-mortar offices across the country, Veritext is proud to employ the best reporters in the industry from a variety of diverse backgrounds. As an equal opportunity employer, we are invested in creating a culture that embraces diversity and provides our employees with the tools they need to be successful. Contact us today to learn more.