Though African Americans have made major strides in the legal field, black attorneys remain largely underrepresented in top-paying legal jobs, and the number of black students enrolling in law school has fallen to a 12-year low, according to a report by the American Bar Association.
The report, titled Miles to Go: Progress of Minorities in the Legal Profession, looks at the most recent data available from academic, government, and professional sources and paints a picture of stark contrasts in the career tracks of lawyers from different racial and ethnic groups.
While African Americans make up 3.9% of all lawyers, the percentage of black Americans entering the legal profession today is lower than that of Hispanics and Asian Americans. For the past two years, the number of blacks enrolling in law school has dropped from 7.4% to 6.6%, the lowest level since 1993.
Once blacks enter the legal field, they are disproportionately represented in top jobs. Only 4% of partners in private practices are minorities, while in corporate America, only 9.1% of general counsel are minorities. However, blacks have fared better than other minorities in securing partnerships. Of the minority partners in the nation’s largest firms, blacks made up 35.9% compared with 29.5% for Hispanics and 31.3% for Asian Americans.
Black lawyers were also more likely than other minorities to be employed by the federal government. More than half of general attorneys and a third of law clerks who are minorities are black.
The report cites several reasons for the failure of black lawyers to advance to the highest levels of private practice, including a lack of mentoring opportunities, the use of criteria such as law school ranking in firms’ hiring decisions, and a high attrition rate.
In fact, the report says more than half of minority lawyers leave their firms within the first three years of practice and two-thirds leave within the first four years, not long enough to get promoted to the highest ranks.