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Eric Friedman
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Sara Shannon
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New York City Bar Association Releases 2009 Diversity Benchmarking Report

New York, December 2, 2009 – Despite highly publicized downsizings in the legal profession this year, firms across New York City have not diminished but have instead reported modest gains in the diversity of their attorney staff, concludes a new report from the New York City Bar Association. These gains come despite economic turbulence and the City Bar’s previous report citing the ‘economic implosion’ as a cause for concern in law firm diversity.

The 2009 Diversity Benchmarking Report, released today, finds that the number of minorities and women in leadership and attorney positions continued to rise in 2009, showing concerted efforts on behalf of firms involved in the study to increase diversity. The report tracked data from nearly 100 law firm signatories to the City Bar’s Statement of Diversity Principles, which was signed in 2004.

The Report notes that “while areas of concern remain – that law firm leadership remains a steep pyramid in which diversity by both gender and race/ethnicity declines substantially as rank increases – we can also feel encouraged by the power of momentum.”

“We are happy to see that our signatory firms are making a clear effort to increase their diversity despite the difficult economic situation,” said New York City Bar President Patricia M. Hynes. “That the numbers are still growing, despite all the layoffs and contractions, is cause for some optimism in our profession.”

The report found the following positive developments:

  • This year, the number of attorneys of color within signatory firms was 18.1%, up from 16.5% in 2007. The number of minority partners rose from 4.7% to 6.6%, and the number of minority special counsels nearly doubled, rising from 5.5% to 9.5%
  • The number of women attorneys at NYC firms has only risen one percent since 2004 – from 35% to 36% – but there has been a sharp increase in promotions of women to partner. The incoming class of partners in 2009 was 33% female, compared to 21% in 2004
  • Percentage of openly-gay attorneys has trended upward, hitting 3% of all NYC attorneys this year. This increase reflects better data collection and greater openness to reporting sexual orientation, as well as growth of representation

However, significant challenges remain. The report found that:

  • Women of color lose ground as they move upwards in their careers, comprising only 2.1% of partnerships across the city today, less than half the number of minority male partners
  • While the use of formal ‘flexibility’ – flexible work schedules – increased modestly, the use of part-time flexibility declined, indicating the importance still placed on full-time work for career advancement and potential concern for job security in part-time attorneys
  • Women and minorities continue to have higher voluntary attrition rates than male and white attorneys, respectively – almost 40% higher rates in some cases

“The fear was that diversity gains of recent years would evaporate with the economy, but they didn’t,” said Lisa Levey, researcher and author of the report. “Yet significant challenges remain. There is a lot to celebrate, but a lot of work left to do.”

The 2009 Diversity Benchmarking Report is available here:

About the Association

The New York City Bar Association ( was founded in 1870, and since then has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.