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What's the Least Diverse Profession in America? The Law

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Move over doctors, tech bros, and Academy Award nominees. When it comes to being the whitest, malest profession in America, the law has everyone else beat.

And it's only getting worse, as the percentage of minority associates stagnates and, for black lawyers, shrinks.

The Law's Diversity Problem by the Numbers

When you think of professions which lack diversity, things like tech start up engineers, hedge fund managers, late night comedians, cupcake store owners, Teach for America candidates, and NFL quarterbacks come to mind. (The list could go on.)

But law takes the cake. At 88 percent white, law is "one of the least racially diverse professions in the nation," according to The Washington Post. Architects and engineers come in lower, at 81 percent white. Accountants are 78 percent white. Even physicians and surgeons -- when there are less black men in med school now than in 1978 -- are more diverse, at a modest 72 percent white.

And then there's gender. About 47 percent of law school students are women, as are 44 percent of associates. Almost perfect parity! But those numbers decline rapidly as you look up the ladder. Women are only 20 percent of firm partners and make up only four percent of managing partners at big firms. Less than two percent of law firm partners are black.

And It's Not Getting Any Better

Certainly things are improving with the new crop of Millennial lawyers, right? No way. The percentage of black attorneys at major law firms has declined from 4.66 percent in 2009 to just 3.95 percent today, according to the National Association for Law Placement. Minority numbers altogether have largely stagnated, increasing from 19.53 percent of associates five years ago to 22 percent now. Women partners have increased by just over one third of one percent over that period.

What can be done to help improve the trend? We've advocated for the adoption of the Rooney Rule in law before. That's the requirement, named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, that at least one minority candidate must be interviewed, just interviewed, for every important position. The Rule can help drastically increase minority employment -- assuming you can overcome biases in hiring. Even Facebook has turned to it as a way of helping the company turn around its dismal diversity numbers.

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