City Bar Releases Diversity Benchmarking Report: Innovative Inclusion Practices Show Gains for Women, Minorities and LGBT Attorneys in New York Firms, Yet Barriers Remain

Thursday, December 28, 2017 - 11:16

Minority and women attorneys have made notable gains in leadership bodies of New York City law firms, but attrition and erosion in the associate pipeline continue to impede progress, concludes a report from the New York City Bar Association released on November 6.

The 2016 Diversity Benchmarking Report includes a detailed overview of “better practices” that signatory law firms have implemented to enhance attorney development, client relationships, and firm culture, with summaries of sample initiatives that have yielded results in retaining and promoting minority and women attorneys. A majority of surveyed firms have implemented targeted business development and leadership training, work allocation protocols, initiatives to strengthen relationships with clients, and training for partners to understand and interrupt implicit bias.

The 2016 quantitative findings reflect several positive trends, including increased representation of women and minority attorneys on management committees and as practice group heads. Additionally, self-reported LGBT attorney representation has more than doubled, and the percentage of LGBT partners has doubled since the City Bar began collecting data in 2004.

Despite the overall gains, the report drills down on the representation of racial/ethnic groups within each level at the firms, and illustrates that minority women make up less than 3% of all partners and 2% of equity partners, compared to white men, who make up 76% of partners and 77% of equity partners in signatory law firms. Furthermore, the turnover of income partners, where women and minority attorneys continue to be disproportionately represented, has almost doubled. Although minority representation on management committees and other leadership bodies increased in 2016, still nearly half of firms have no racial/ethnic minorities on their management committees and more than one-third have no minority practice group heads.

“What’s noteworthy about this year’s report is that it goes beyond quantitative measurement and delves into practical and innovative tools that can increase diversity in law firms,” said City Bar President John S. Kiernan. “While the survey’s findings are helpful in marking progress and in showing where more work needs to be done, I urge everyone, especially firm leadership, to focus on these better practices to achieve greater results.”

The report’s findings, compiled from the surveys of New York City law firms that signed the City Bar’s Statement of Diversity Principles, also include:

  • The percentage of women serving on management committees increased to 23.6% from 20.3% in 2015, and the percentage of minorities serving on management committees increased to 9.4% from 7.1% in 2015. The percentage of law firms with three or more women attorneys on the management committee increased from 24% in 2014 to 41% in 2016, and the percentage of law firms with three or more minority attorneys on the management committee more than doubled, from 7% in 2014 to 18% in 2016.
  • In 2016, white men represented 77% of all equity partners at signatory firms. Minority and women partners continue to be concentrated at the income partner level, rather than among the ranks of equity partners. Moreover, the turnover rate for income partners in 2016 was 6.6%, almost double the 3.4% turnover rate of equity partners.
  • Erosion in the associate pipeline directly affects future leadership. 45% of associates are women compared to 19% of partners, and 28% of associates are racial/ethnic minorities compared to 9% of partners. In contrast, 40% of associates are white men compared to 76% of partners.
  • Voluntary attrition is down overall in law firms, but continues to disproportionately impact minority and women attorneys, with 15.6% of minorities and 14.3% of women leaving signatory firms in 2016 —150% and 135% above the 10.6% rate for white men respectively. Even at the equity partner level, differences in voluntary attrition persist – with rates of 9.8% for women and 9.3% for minorities compared to 3.7% for white men.
  • Signatory firms continue to reflect commitment from firm leadership to diversity and inclusion efforts, with 44% of firms reporting that a management committee member serves as chair of the diversity committee, an increase from 27% in 2015.

To date, 134 New York City firms have signed the City Bar’s Statement of Diversity Principles, and have committed to work toward several goals focused on enhancing the diversity of the legal profession from the pipeline to firm leadership. The data collected from signatory firms enables the legal community to track its progress in upholding the benchmarks set forth in the Statement of Diversity Principles, and also drives City Bar Committee programs and reports to move these efforts forward. 

The 2016 Benchmarking Report is available here: http://bit.ly/2h91LgW