Vault/MCCA 2016 Survey
The following findings are based on responses collected from 225 law firms who participated in the 2016 Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey. The survey was distributed in the spring of 2016 and includes demographic statistics reported as of December 31, 2015.
The survey gathers detailed breakdowns of law firm populations by race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability status across attorney levels—from summer associates hired to partners promoted, from the lawyers who serve on management committees to the attorneys who leave their firms—thus offering comprehensive demographic snapshots of the nation’s leading law firms as well as of the industry as a whole.
2016 Vault/MCCA Survey Results
Minority Men and Women
- This year’s survey results included the highest percentage of minority attorneys to date—across all categories, from associates to equity partners, from summer associates to management committee members.
- According to participating law firms, non-white attorneys represent 15.65% of their population, an increase over the 14.99% reported in last year’s survey. Over the last nine years, the percentage of minority lawyers in law firms has grown from 13.81% to 15.65%. Minority lawyers now represent more than 23 percent of associates (23.54%) and 8 percent (8.46%) of all partners.
- While their progress has been slower than that of their male colleagues, women of color now make up a larger share of the overall law firm population than minority men. Of the 98,858 attorneys at 225 law firms survey-wide, 7,781 are minority women and 7,694 are minority men. Nevertheless, minority men continue to outnumber minority women at the partnership level by almost two to one. In 2015, law firm partners included 2,359 minority men (5.57%) and 1,225 minority women (2.89%).
- Lawyers of color are better represented at the equity level than they were in the past, in part because of an increase in promotions. Of 31,859 equity partners survey-wide, 2,509 (7.88%) are members of minority groups, compared to 2007, when just 5.62% of equity partners were people of color. Surveyed law firms reported that 1,915 lawyers were made partner in 2015; of those new partners, 273 (14.26%) were attorneys of color, including 146 men and 127 women.
- Representation of minority attorneys in law firm management is also at its highest level since 2007 and parallels the advances in the partnership ranks. The percentage of attorneys of color serving on law firm executive or management committees has grown from 5.42% in 2007 to 7.50% in 2015.
- The number of new attorneys hired by law firms in 2015 included the highest percentage of attorneys of colors reported in the last nine years. In 2015, nearly one-fourth (24.72%) of all new hires—including both laterals and starting associates—were members of minority groups, a solid increase over 2014 (23.37%) and more than 3 percentage points higher than the 21.57% reported for 2007.
- While hiring has increased among men and women alike, the latest results show greater gains among female attorneys. The percentage of minority women among attorneys hired increased from 12.15% to 13.29%, while among men the figure increased from 11.21% to 11.43%.
- As has been the case since 2007, firms are also hiring more minority women than men into their summer programs. The 2015 summer class included 954 (16.51%) female and 765 (13.24%) male minority law students. Overall, minority law students represented close to 30% (29.75%) of the 2015 class of 2L summer associates—the highest figure reported in the last nine years and substantially higher than the 25.95% reported back in 2007.
- Where the data reveals less progress is in the retention of minority lawyers. Of the 10,205 lawyers who left their firms in 2015, almost 21% (20.76%) were attorneys of color. That figure is little changed from the 20.81% reported for 2014, which was the largest number to date. Minority lawyers in their first two years of practice are the most likely to leave. More than one-third (33.46%) of first- and second-years who left their firms in 2015 were members of racial or ethnic minority groups—a figure greater than that reported for any of the prior eight years. Minority lawyers represented 25.53% of departures among midlevel associates (third- through fifth-years) and 24.03% of senior associates (those in their sixth-, seventh- or eighth-year) in 2015.
- Among women, the numbers are especially stark: nearly 14% (13.78%) of the 2,888 senior associates who left their firms were women of color, and 14.20% of mid-levels were minority women. But the biggest jump was in departures at the junior level. Women of color represented 18.11% of 1st- and 2nd-years who left their firms in 2015, a substantial increase over the 15.42% reported for 2014 and more than 2 percentage points higher than that reported for any previous year. Overall, law firms reported higher attrition numbers for women of color in this year’s survey; the figures now exceed those recorded for all past years.
- These figures are all the more concerning when viewed against the overall demographic data. Women of color represent just 7.87% of attorneys in law firms but 11.29% of attorney departures. Together, minority men and women represent less than 16 percent of all law firm attorneys, but they account for more than 20 percent of the lawyers who leave their firms.