EEOC says law firms improve diversity

A new study of diversity in U.S. law firms, released this week by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, says that women now make up 40 percent of lawyers in medium- and large-sized firms, compared to 14 percent in 1975. The number of Black lawyers in these firms doubled since 1975, to over 4 percent. Hispanics more than doubled to 3 percent, and Asian representation rose by five times to 6.5 percent.

The study looks only at law firms required to file EEO-1 reports, which means firms that have 100 or more employees. Among its other findings:

  • Between 1982 and 2002, women receiving law degrees increased from 33 percent to 48.3 percent, Blacks from 4.2 percent to 7.2 percent, Hispanics from 2.3 percent to 5.7 percent, and Asians from 1.3 percent to 6.5 percent.
  • Legal professionals of color are likely to be associated with firms in the top 10 legal markets (cities), and in firms ranked in the top 100 on the basis of prestige and/or earnings.
  • Large, nationally known law firms generally have a higher proportion of women and people of color than other types of law firms. There is also less variation in the proportion of women and people of color among these large, nationally known law firms.
  • Law firm characteristics such as size, number of offices, locations, prestige and earnings rankings appear to have more effect on the proportion of legal professionals of color than the proportion of women legal professionals. However, both the proportion of women and the proportion of people of color are significantly higher in firms with more offices.

    Given that the greatest percentage of lawyers work in smaller firms, the survey offers only a partial picture.