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EEOC Diversity in Law Firms Study

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Summary: The 2003 EEOC Diversity in Law Firms Study 2003 study examines the

employment status of women and people of color at law firms required to file EEO-1 "Employer Information Reports" breaking down the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of an employer's workforce by job classification. The study also looks at the relationship between firm characteristics and the employment of people of color and women. Results suggest that the most pressing equal employment issue in large national law firms is no longer hiring but conditions of employment, especially promotion to partnership.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Diversity in Law Firms Study

A 2003 study, Diversity in Lw Firms by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that examines the employment status of women and people of color at law firms required to file EEO-1 "Employer Information Reports" breaking down the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of an employer's workforce by job classification. The research covers medium and large law firms as only employers with 100 or more employees are required to file EEO-1 reports. Specifically, it examines changes in employment of people of color and women as attorneys since 1975.

The study also looks at the relationship between firm characteristics and the employment of people of color and women. Results suggest that the most pressing equal employment issue in large national law firms is no longer hiring but conditions of employment, especially promotion to partnership. In smaller, regional and local law firms, questions about the fairness and openness of hiring practices probably still remain, particularly for lawyers of color. Other cited research suggests potential problems for women and people of color in attrition and earnings. The study supplements EEO-1 analyses with sample data and finds that women and people of color have lower odds of being partners than white males.

The study also reveals that women now comprise 40% of legal professionals (resembling associates) in the private sector, a significant gain from 14% nearly three decades ago. In addition, since 1975, African Americans doubled their employment as legal professionals to over 4%, Hispanics more than doubled to 3%, and Asian representation rose by five times to 6.5%.

In addition to the gains of women and people of color in their representation among legal professionals at medium and large law firms, the study also shows:

  • Between 1982 and 2002, women receiving law degrees increased from 33% to 48.3%, African Americans from 4.2% to 7.2%, Hispanics from 2.3% to 5.7%, and Asians from 1.3% to 6.5%.
  • Legal professionals of color are likely to be associated with firms in the top ten legal markets (cities), and in firms ranked in the top 100 on the basis of prestige and/or earnings.
  • Large, nationally known law firms generally have a higher proportion of women and people of color than other types of law firms. There is also less variation in the proportion of women and people of color among these large, nationally known law firms.
  • Law firm characteristics such as size, number of offices, locations, prestige and earnings rankings appear to have more effect on the proportion of legal professionals of color than the proportion of women legal professionals. However, both the proportion of women and the proportion of people of color are significantly higher in firms with more offices.

EOC Chair Cari M. Dominguez also identified the following steps that law firms can take to increase the employment of women and people of color:

  • A greater focus on diversity in the recruitment and hiring process;
  • Increased mentoring and training opportunities;
  • Addressing the pervasive problem of attrition, especially for women of color;
  • Providing more management authority at the partner level; and
  • Offering family-friendly policies and flexible work options;

Additionally, Chair Dominguez strongly encouraged law firms to provide more employment opportunities for lawyers with disabilities. "Misunderstandings about disability from concerns about the cost of reasonable accommodations to unfounded fears about performance and reliability have prevented many qualified lawyers with disabilities from even being considered for jobs within the legal profession," she said.

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