Study: Law Firm Partners Are Overwhelmingly White Men

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A study by NALP, a legal employment group previously known as the National Association for Law Placement, finds that the overwhelming majority of partners in law firms are white men. Moreover, an even larger disparity exists among equity partners — lawyers who own a stake in their firm’s profits and who tend to be the most well-compensated attorneys within that firm — where a massive 85 percent are male and over 95 percent are white:

Overall, based on those offices that provided information, 64% of male partners were equity partners as of February 2012, while somewhat less than half (46-47%) of both women partners and minority partners were equity partners, a differential of 17-18 percentage points. . . .

More dramatically perhaps, among equity partners, about 85% were men, 15% were women, and just under 5% were racial/ethnic minorities. (The minority figures include both men and women, so the three figures add to more than 100%.) Among non-equity partners, the respective figures were 73% men, 27% women, and 8% racial/ethnic minorities. . . .

Finally, among all partners, the equity/non-equity split is about 61%/39%. Just over half of partners were male equity partners; just over 9% were women equity partners; and almost 3% were minority equity partners (Again, minorities are also included in the counts by gender.)

Law firm partners, of course, are not just the most well-compensated members of their firms, they are also the ones with the most authority over the firm’s activities and the most control over the arguments the firm will present to judges in legal briefs. As judges rely on briefing in order to familiarize themselves with the best arguments for each position in a case, the fact that senior law firm attorneys are overwhelmingly white men means that judges are overwhelmingly more likely to be confronted with legal arguments presented from a white man’s perspective.