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Bad Economy Hurting Law Firm Diversity
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lack of diversity in law firm hiring

As the economic recession has left many law firms struggling to get by, many have made diversification less of a priority. Over the last 20 years, the number of minorities and women in the legal industry has continued to grow, but in 2010, that number fell for the first time.

According to statistics from the National Association of Law Placement (NALP), the representation of women and d minorities at U.S. law firms stalled in 2010, which was the first time that the number did not grow since NALP began taking statistics in 1993. The percentage of minorities at law firms peaked at 12.4% in 2009, and women make up approximately 1/3 of the attorney work force at all levels. Minority women continue to be the most under-represented group in the legal industry.

  
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NALP credits the lack of growth in diversification to the economic recession. When it becomes harder for a law firm to thrive, more focus is put into the core business and finding ways to sustain business and less attention is paid to growth and diversity. These numbers reflect an overall diversity issue in the business world, and while the legal industry has made important strides towards diversification, the recession has put many of these efforts on hold.

Additional factors impacting law firm diversity is controversial Affirmative Action policies, which are being repealed with more and more frequency, and, with the election of a black president, the false sense that the nation is “beyond” racism and that equality has been achieved.

In an effort to understand why diversity hiring at law firms has taken such a hit in the last three years, the New York Times spoke with several attorneys in Texas to get a sense of who is and isn’t being hired by firms and why.

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“We’re at a precipice,” said John Page, president of the National Bar Association. “There is diversity fatigue. We could fall backwards very quickly.”

One anonymous attorney told the New York Times that, despite his success in the legal field, he still sometimes felt as though he as only at his firm as a way to fill a quota, and that he was sometimes perceived as less-qualified as his white colleagues.



The New York Times article also linked the lack of diversity at the higher levels of legal practices around the country to the lack of entry-level type positions. While the percentage of black partners at law firms in Houston is currently at an all-time high 2.65%, several black lawyers feared that there were not enough minorities coming up through the ranks, and that diversity at higher levels would begin to decrease over the next several years.

Still, the Times does suggest that achieving partner status may not be as a high a priority for minority attorneys as it is for white attorneys. The article cites a statistic that many minority attorneys begin their careers at a law firm but move into the public and non-profit sectors.



 

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