For the 28th consecutive year, the percentage of law firm partners who are lawyers of color rose in 2021, according to the National Association for Law Placement Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms.
The increase has been slow but steady. Viewed year by year, the change is almost imperceptible. But viewed over the span of decades, it is easier to see, and it is accelerating.
In 1993, when NALP began tracking race and ethnicity of law firm partners, 2.55% of all partners were lawyers of color. The number has increased every year since then.
In 2021, 10.75% of all law firm partners were lawyers of color, according to the NALP report. Nearly half of those partners of color (46%) were Asian American. Another 31% were Hispanic and 24% Black.
The accelerating change from decade to decade is striking. During the 1990s and 2000s, the increase in the percentage of partners of color was very slow – usually between 0.1 and 0.3 percentage points each year. But in recent years, the change has accelerated. From 2019 to 2020, the percentage of partners who are lawyers of color increased by 0.68 percentage points. From 2020 to 2021, it increased by 0.52 percentage points.
The numbers are much higher for law firm associates. In 2021, 27.6% of all associates were lawyers of color. That number increased more than 1 percentage point each year in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Law firm diversity varies dramatically across the country. At one extreme, 30% of all law firm partners in Miami are lawyers of color – the largest percentage in the country. At the other extreme, just 3% of partners in Pittsburgh are lawyers of color – the lowest percentage in the country.
Law firm diversity is particularly strong in California. Among the top six cities and metro areas in the country for law firm diversity, all but one are in California: Silicon Valley, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County. Two more are in the Washington, D.C. metro area: Northern Virginia and the capital city itself.
On the flip side, half of the bottom 10 areas for law firm diversity are in the Midwest: Cleveland, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee and Kansas City.
City size appears to have no correlation to law firm diversity. For example, while Los Angeles, Houston, San Diego and San Jose are among the 10 largest U.S. cities by population and by diversity of law firms, Philadelphia – the nation’s sixth-largest city – fares poorly for law firm diversity. Only 7% of all law firm partners in Philadelphia are lawyers of color.