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Few Asian-Americans in Top Legal Jobs, National Survey Reveals

By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 20, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After leading a national survey of Asian-Americans in the legal profession, California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu saw that he serves in a uniquely rare position.

Liu is one of three Asian-Americans serving on the high court. With a seven-member panel, the court is 42 percent Asian-American.

And there is no place like it in the country, where Asian Americans comprise more than five percent of the general population but less than two percent of the judicial population. Liu, with a team of Yale students, found that Asian-Americans are well-represented in legal jobs but under-represented in the top positions.

"They have a foot in the door in virtually every sector of the legal profession," Liu told the Associated Press. "The question now is how wide that door's going to swing open for them."

Behind Closed Doors

The report, the first of its kind, revealed that the Asian-American composition on California's high court was not representative of the other appellate panels in the state. Two of the 97 appeals court judges were Asian-American, according to the study.

It also showed:

  • Three of the 94 U.S. attorneys were Asian-American.
  • Of approximately 2,500 state prosecutors, four were Asian-Americans.
  • Twenty-six Asian-American judges served among more than 850 federal judicial positions.
  • Two percent of almost 10,300 state trial and appellate court judges surveyed were Asian-American.
  • Asian-Americans formed the largest minority group at top law firms, yet had the highest attrition rate and lowest partner-to-associate ratio for racial groups.

Raising the Bamboo Ceiling

The study included responses from about 600 Asian-American lawyers. More than 80 percent of them said they experienced bias in the workplace.

The respondents also said that Asian-Americans were considered to be hardworking and responsible, but they were not associated with qualities of empathy, creativity, or assertiveness.

The Huffington Post reported the survey demonstrates that the legal profession is affected by the "bamboo ceiling," a term to describe the under-representation of Asian-Americans in leadership positions.

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