Gender Diversity Background
For decades, the discussion of advancing women (in the legal industry and in general) has taken place primarily among women. At women’s bar events and conferences for women lawyers, women share staggering statistics demonstrating gender inequality in legal practice, women discuss the differences between the perspectives of women and men in legal practice, women analyze the way women communicate differently, and women share tips for thriving in the male-focused culture of the legal industry.
These women are working hard in the hopes that women will stay in the practice of law long enough to increase the number of women leaders and that those women leaders will effect broader change for other women lawyers, moving the profession toward gender equality. In the meantime, to succeed in the legal industry, women lawyers must spend time learning how to navigate a culture that is not built for their success and to minimize, where possible, the effects of implicit bias and blatant discrimination on their careers.
Women lawyers work to survive in a culture that reflects a history of the practice of law by men. The number of women graduating law school now equals, and sometimes exceeds, the number of men, but we know that the percentage of women partners, women in-house counsel, and other women leaders does not come close to reflecting the percentage of women graduating law school. Although women may comprise around 50% of lawyers entering the profession, the culture of legal practice has not changed to eliminate discrimination or to reflect the number of women lawyers. In turn, the number of women partners and other women leaders in the legal industry has not increased at the rate one might expect when looking at years of law school graduating classes.
Gender Diversity Information
- Approximately half of all law school graduates are women and that has been the case for at least twenty years. “After entry-level, the representation of women at firms shrinks each subsequent year.” NALP Diversity Infographic: Women, 2015-2016.
- However, approximately 65% of attorneys are men, and 35% of attorneys are women. ABA 2017 National Lawyer Population Survey.
- “The percentage of associates who are women has grown at times, stalled at other times, and decreased at others. The figure peaked in 2009 and has decreased in five of the eight years since, and in 2017 remains slightly below its 2009 level.” NALP Women and Minorities at Law Firms — What Has Changed and What Has Not in the Past 25 Years, 2018.
- Over the past 25 years, the change in the number of women attorneys has been small, particularly in comparison to makeup of law school graduates and the population as a whole. Women attorneys represented 12.27% of partners in 1993 and now represent approximately 22.70% of partners. NALP 2017 Report on Diversity In U.S. Law Firms.
- “While the number of women equity partners has increased from 16% in 2007, it remains largely unchanged in the last 10 years.” In addition, women make up only 25% of high-level governance roles, such as serving on a compensation committee or as practice group leader. 2017 National Association of Women Lawyers Survey on Promotion and Retention of Women in Law Firms Summary.
- “Only four of the 112 Justices ever to serve on the highest court in the land have been women.” 36% of active judges currently sitting on the thirteen federal courts of appeal are women. 33% of active United States district/trial court judges are women. National Women’s Law Center 2016 Report on Women in the Federal Judiciary.
- “Not a single state has women on the bench in the numbers commensurate with their representation in the general population.” Nationwide, “…only two percentage points above or below a mean of 30% of state judges are women.” American Constitution Society Gavel Gap Report.
- In the Florida Bar Results of the 2015 YLD Survey on Women in the Legal Profession, 6% reported having left an employer because of gender bias and 5% because of harassment. 43% reported experiencing gender bias in their careers and 17% reported having experienced harassment. 10% listed gender bias as one of the top three significant challenges faced as an attorney.
- See also the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession’s A Current Glance at Women in the Law January 2017.
Broader Diversity Background
Minority attorneys regularly face implicit bias and blatant discrimination. Until we are able to broadly prevent discrimination in the legal industry and until our profession represents the diversity in the larger population, our otherwise powerful profession will be limited in its ability to fully represent, protect, and benefit our community.
“For too long a wall of uniformity has defined the legal profession. A wall that limits entry and advancement based on race, ethnicity, color, culture, gender, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, geography and age. A wall that has stood in the way of real change. A wall that has left the legal profession an anachronism in an increasingly diverse society. Past efforts to increase diversity in the legal profession have been sincere but not inclusive enough…not ambitious enough…not robust enough.” — From the Mission Statement of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession
Broader Diversity Information
- “People of color make up about 6% of equity partners, and women of color are only 2% of equity partners. Openly LGBTQ people represent only 2% of equity partners, and persons with disabilities represent less than 1%.” 2017 National Association of Women Lawyers Survey on Promotion and Retention of Women in Law Firms Summary.
- Representation of minorities in practice is not consistently increasing. For example, representation of Black/African American attorneys remains below 2009 levels, and the percentage of Black/African-American associates has declined in most years since 2009. NALP 2017 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms.
- The ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession points to the “…lack of racial and ethnic diversity within the profession” and the need for our profession to “more accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of society.”
- The percentage of minority associates lags behind the percentage of minority law school enrollees and graduates. NALP Women and Minorities at Law Firms — What Has Changed and What Has Not in the Past 25 Years, 2018.
- Over the past 25 years, the change in the number of minority attorneys has been small, particularly in comparison to makeup of law school graduates and the population as a whole. Minority partners represented 2.55% of partners in 1993 and now represent approximately 8.42% of partners. Note that “…most of the increase in minority representation among partners since 2009 can be attributed to an increase of Asian and Hispanic male partners in particular. Representation of Black/ African-Americans among partners has barely budged over the period and was 1.83% in 2017, almost flat compared with 2016, and not much higher than the 1.71% figure in 2009.” NALP 2017 Report on Diversity In U.S. Law Firms.
- “In a near majority of states (24), minority judges fell below 50% of proportional representation of the general population.” American Constitution Society Gavel Gap Report.
In addition, the intersectionality concept, a topic of discussion at the recent ABA Midyear Meeting, reminds us that some attorneys face overlapping sources of discrimination and additional barriers. For example, “[a]t just 2.90% of partners in 2017, minority women continue to be the most dramatically under- represented group at the partnership level…” NALP 2017 Report on Diversity In U.S. Law Firms.
Find additional data at: ncwba.org/resources/statistics/