The legal industry’s wave of recession-induced layoffs appears to have hit African American associates particularly hard. At the 191 firms that took part in our survey this year and last, the absolute number of African American associates fell from 2,826 to 2,362. In 2008, African Americans made up 4.7 percent of the broader nonpartner pool; in 2009, they were down to 4.4 percent–a 16 percent decline that did not surprise some.

“These numbers are actually a validation of what we have been hearing an­ecdotally over the past year,” says Chicago-based diversity consultant Arin Reeves. She adds that historical challenges faced by African American asso­ciates–a lack of mentors and challenging work–make them especially vulnerable in tight times.

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