Who are the biggest law firm earners? It’s white men, ABA report confirms


  • New ABA law firm survey highlights compensation gaps
  • Hiring of Hispanic partners and associates increased in 2020

(Reuters) – When it comes to law firm high earners, white men dominate.

A new demographic study of law firm hiring, leadership, attrition and compensation by the American Bar Association found that in 2020 white men comprised 71% of lawyers who were in the top 10% of their firms by pay. White women made up 13% of those high earners, while Black attorneys were less than 1% overall, though their representation was higher at small firms.

Those are among the disparities highlighted Monday in the report by the ABA’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, which surveyed 287 law firms about demographics related to their hiring and promotions, leadership, attrition and compensation.

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While the aggregate results were released publicly, the commission is making individual law firm data from its Model Diversity Survey available to companies that sign the ABA’s Pledge For Change — a commitment by legal employers to make their workplaces more diverse. The firms agreed to that arrangement before submitting their data.

The survey aims to bring law firms and clients together for “an honest discussion about the vital role of diversity” and strategies to improve diversity, according to the report. Corporate clients in recent years have begun demanding greater diversity efforts from their outside counsel firms, sometimes as a prerequisite for winning lucrative assignments.

The ABA numbers generally show a wide gap between law firms’ diversity and national demographics.

At most of the surveyed law firms, white men accounted for 60% to 70% of leadership — a statistic that includes hiring partners, members of compensation committees, office heads and other committee posts. White women accounted for 20% to 25% of leadership at the bulk of firms, while racially diverse male attorneys typically made up 5% to 8%. Women from underrepresented groups made up just 2% to 5% of law firm leaders on average.

Large law firms in 2020 increased their hiring of Hispanic equity partners by nearly 5% and Asian equity partners by almost 1% over 2019, according to the report. However, the number of Black equity partners hired in 2020 fell by more than 1%, during that time.

Large firms also increased their hiring of Black, Hispanic, and Asian associates in 2020, while the number of white associate hires declined by 4%. But the data suggested firms struggle to retain their diverse hires. Black and Asian attorneys had the highest attrition rates, with 23% and 19% respectively leaving their firms in 2020. White attorneys had the lowest attrition rate, at 12%.

The authors warned that the data, since it is based on 2020 survey results, does not necessarily reflect any law firm demographic changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more:

New lawyer demographics show modest growth in minority attorneys

Conservatives question ABA role in law school diversity push

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