New York Law Firms See Leadership Gains for Minorities and Women, but Attrition Remains a Challenge

City Bar Releases Diversity Benchmarking Report

Despite enhanced efforts to retain and promote minority and women attorneys and some gains in leadership positions, New York City law firms continue to experience stalled progress impeded by  high rates of attrition and erosion in the associate pipeline, concludes a report from the New York City Bar Association released today. 

The 2015 Diversity Benchmarking Report notes aggregated gains and losses for signatory firms. Women attorneys saw gains in leadership bodies, but a lack of racial/ethnic diversity at the partner level, voluntary attrition, and erosion in the associate pipeline remain challenges. While women attorneys saw gains in representation on firm management committees and among practice group heads, one in four firms has no women on its management committee and one in eight has no women practice group leaders.

Minority attorney representation overall remains unchanged, but the 2015 data indicates key gains in leadership bodies, including increased representation among Special Counsel attorneys, practice group heads and on firm management committees. However, the majority of firms have no minorities on their management committee and more than one-third have no racial/ethnic minorities as practice group heads.

“Progress remains incremental, and the attrition and pipeline numbers are not where they should be,” said City Bar President John S. Kiernan. “That said, leadership numbers are headed in the right direction, although slowly, and we are seeing that more firms are genuinely working on enhancing diversity and inclusion. We hope that this report will serve as a resource for law firms to consider the specific recommendations we have provided with the data, and to collaborate with the City Bar and each other to advance their diversity efforts.” 

The 2015 benchmarking survey included several significant updates, including a requirement that firms participate in order to be listed as signatories to the City Bar Statement of Diversity Principles; the breakdown of individual racial/ethnic groups for men and women attorneys at all levels; and new sections on workflow and bonus structures within the firm, engagement in pipeline efforts, and a “better practices” section to highlight specific firm initiatives yielding results.

The report’s findings, compiled from the surveys of New York City law firms that signed the City Bar’s Statement of Diversity Principles, also included:

  • Voluntary attrition continues to disproportionately impact minority and women attorneys, with 20.8% of minority attorneys and 18.4% of women leaving signatory firms in 2015. This is a slight decrease from 2014, but still well above the 12.9% attrition rate for white men.
  • Gender diversity in the associate pipeline has leveled off at 45% for junior and mid-level women associates and 42% for senior women associates. Minority representation has leveled off or declined for junior, mid- and senior level associates from 2014 to 2015; in particular, fourth- and fifth-year associates declined to around 25%, and seventh- and eighth-year associates declined to around 20%. Asian/Pacific Islander women associates are the only group showing consistent increases since 2004.
  • In 2015, women showed notable gains in representation on firm management committees and among practice group heads and women partners peaked at 19%. However, white women make up 85% of all women partners while minority women make up less than 3% of all partners in signatory firms.
  • Although representation of minority attorneys overall remains unchanged, representation at the Special Counsel level increased, as well as minority representation in leadership bodies. The percentage of minority management committee members and minority practice group heads increased, and the percentage of law firms with three or more minority attorneys on the management committee doubled from 7% in 2014 to 14% in 2015.
  • LGBT attorney representation has more than doubled since the City Bar began collecting self- reported data in 2004 and representation of LGBT partners has increased from 1.4% to 2.4%.
  • In 2015, white men represented 77% of all equity partners at signatory firms. Minority and women partners continue to be concentrated at the income partner level, rather than among the ranks of equity partners. Furthermore, the turnover rate for women and minority income partners in 2015 was 8.6%, more than double the turnover rate of women and minority equity partners at 3.2%.

To date, 118 New York City firms have signed the City Bar’s Statement of Diversity Principles, committing to working toward several goals focused on enhancing the diversity of the legal profession from the pipeline to firm leadership. The data collected from signatory firms enables the legal community to track its progress in upholding the benchmarks set forth in the Statement of Principles, and also helps the City Bar specifically tailor their programs and reports to move these efforts forward. 

The 2015 Benchmarking Report is available here: