Women and Minority Attorneys Make Gains in Big Law Leadership

Women and minority attorneys are gaining ground in Big Law leadership positions, according to a new report by by the New York City Bar Association.

The percentage of women serving on management committees rose from 20.3 percent in 2015 to 23.6 percent in 2016, and the percentage of minorities on management committees increased from 7.1 percent to 9.4 percent during the same time, according to the City Bar’s 2016 Diversity Benchmarking Report, which includes data from 88 participating law firms and year-to-year comparison data from 71 firms.  

“These gains that we’re seeing are really promising,” Gabrielle Brown, director of diversity and inclusion at the City Bar, told Big Law Business. “There seems to finally be good news.”

The report also showed signs that women and minority representation in leadership increases once the first lawyers get their foot in the door.

The percentage of law firms with three or more women on their management committee nearly doubled over two years, going from 24 percent in 2014 to 41 percent in 2016. The percentage of law firms with three or more minority attorneys on their management committee more than doubled from 7 percent in 2014 to 18 percent in 2016.

“We’re seeing more voices at the table advocating for those behind them,” said Brown. 

Yet the survey suggests these gains are being made only in a select number of firms. Nearly half of the participating firms reported having no members of racial or ethnic minorities on their management committees, according to the City Bar. Additionally, one in five firms had no women on its management committee.

Courtesy of the New York City Bar
Courtesy of the New York City Bar

Gains in leadership aside, minority men and women continue to be underrepresented, making up less than 10 percent of all partners in the surveyed firms. Women of color, who make up 2.5 percent of partners, remain far less represented than white women, who make up 16 percent of partners.

“We need to keep an eye on some of these more sobering data points, because we have a long way to go,” said Brown.

In addition, while overall voluntary attrition is down across law firms, attrition rates remain much higher for minorities (15.6 percent) and women (14.3 percent) than white men (10.6 percent).  

 

Contact the reporter responsible for this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

Contact the editors responsible for this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com and Tom Taylor at ttaylor@bna.com.