While more law firms continue to make small strides as far as hiring more minorities, the head of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) calls the consistently minor gains a “red flag” for legal firms and law schools.

In 2013, minorities made up 13.36 percent of law firm lawyers, a slight increase from last year (12.91 percent) — and a full recovery from numbers reflected during the economic downturn, according to the latest law firm demographic findings from NALP. Given that the percentage of women associates has eroded every year since 2010, the upshot is very small net gains in the representation of women and minority lawyers overall.

On the partner front, the balance appears to be improving since minorities now comprise 7.1 percent of law firm partners, the NALP revealed, versus 6.71 percent in 2012 and 6.05 percent in 2009.

But overall gains since 1993 for both minority and female partners have been “only marginal,” according to James Leipold, NALP’s executive director.

“Since the recession, we have seen the figures for women associates drop in each of four successive years. While minority associate numbers also dipped immediately after the recession, they quickly rebounded, while the numbers for women have not. This is a significant historical shift, and represents a divergence in the previously parallel stories of women and minorities in large law firms,” Leipold said in a statement.

While the representation of minorities among lawyers as a whole inched up in 2013, the representation of women among all lawyers increased by a smaller amount, and all of this gain can be attributed to increases in women among the partnership ranks. Leipold says the small increase should be a “red flag” to the industry.

“While the percentage of women partners, small as it is, has continued to grow each year, sustained incremental growth in the future is at risk if the percentage of women associates continues to inch downwards,” Leipold added. “This should be a red flag for everyone in legal education and the law firm world.”

According to the latest figures from the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), 7.2 percent of Fortune 1000 chief legal officers are lawyers of color. Compared to the percentage of non-Caucasians in the U.S., which is 35 percent, this is a number that fails to reflect the general population.


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