Report examines law firm equity and inclusion

The American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession has released its 2020 ABA Model Diversity Survey Report, the first report on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in law firm practice.

The Model Diversity Survey (MDS), developed in 2016, provides clients with a way to review and assess diversity, equity and inclusion of the legal service providers with which they work and to make decisions regarding hiring and retention based on the DEI efforts of those service providers, according to the ABA.

It assesses firm policies, practices and outcomes regarding hiring, attrition, promotion, leadership, work schedules and compensation.

The MDS Report includes 2017-19 data from more than 370 law firms.

The report does not make recommendations, but it lists seven findings from the survey:

•   Firm leadership overwhelmingly consisted of white men relative to white women and racial, LGBTQ+ and disability minorities of any gender identity.

• Hires and promotions/attrition suggest that representation of minority groups is growing at the bottom levels of associates but is declining at the higher levels of non-equity and equity partners.

•  Attrition rates were substantially larger for nonwhite attorneys (e.g., nearly three times larger for African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino attorneys) relative to white attorneys.

• The percentage of white associates promoted to equity partner was slightly higher than the percentage of white associates promoted to non-equity partner.

This pattern was reversed for female associates, and the associates of all other racial minority groups which displayed larger percentages promoted to non-equity partner than to equity partner.

• Minority males and females consistently ranged between zero to two percent of the top 10 percent highest-paid attorneys in law firms.

• LGBTQ+, disability and the racial categories of Pacific Islander & Native American/Indigenous are largely missing from law firms or underreported in firm demographics, hiring, promotions, attrition and compensation.

Most frequently, the average percentages were at or near zero for most of the analyses.

• Firm size matters. Even within the same year, there were considerable fluctuations between firm sizes. Some of these fluctuations made sense as in larger average percentages were often reported among firms with 1 to 20 attorneys.

Because of the relatively fewer numbers in these firms, any demographic group is likely to make up a higher proportion, often resulting in extreme
percentages for a given firm, the organization said. There were also some fluctuations between firm sizes within a given year that was not readily explainable.

The Model Diversity Survey is a product of  Resolution 113, which was adopted by the ABA in August 2016.

It urges legal service providers to expand and create opportunities for diverse attorneys and urges the buyers of legal services to direct a greater percentage of their legal spending toward diverse attorneys.

The commission was created while Paulette Brown served as ABA president and she wrote an introduction to the report, saying the focus of Resolution 113 as well as the Model Diversity Survey was “to attempt to level the playing field.”

“There are so many who caused the vision of creating increased opportunities for diverse lawyers to have a seat at the table and a meaningful voice at the table to be enhanced,” Brown wrote. “The vision has not been fully realized but important steps have been made to economically empower diverse lawyers.

“The Model Diversity Survey Report and the MDR demonstrate we can be the Change.”


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