What Happened To All The Black Women Lawyers?

January 10, 2017  |  

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Despite the fact that court TV shows seem to have a wide array of Black female judges, there is actually a void of Black women in the legal field. According to the American Bar Association, only 5 percent of the practicing attorneys in the U.S. as of 2010 were Black. So it’s no wonder law firms are finding it difficult to hire and retain Black women lawyers.

According to a report published recently by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), the number of Black women lawyers at law firms has basically remained unchanged while other groups have experienced modest gains.

NALP tracks more than 112,000 lawyers from 1,082 law offices at approximately 700 firms, and according to its data from 2009 to 2016, the number of women lawyers at law firms in the NALP database went up less than one percent, from 32.97 percent to 33.89 percent. The number of minority lawyers at law firms in the NALP database increased about 2 percent, from 12.59 percent to 14.62 percent and the number of minority women also includes less than one percent, from 6.33 percent in 2009 to 7.23 percent in 2016. However, when you look especially at Black women associates at law firms their number decreased every year between 2010 and 2015.

“In 2016, Black women made up 0.64 percent of law firm partners and 2.32 percent of law firm associates. At the associate level, the number ofBblack women lawyers at law firms peaked in 2008, just before the financial crisis, at 2.97 percent, according to NALP,” reported Bloomberg Law. “Women of color also have among the highest rates of attrition in the legal industry.”

A survey by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association found that Black lawyers leave firms at a higher rate than members of any other minority group, with Black women quitting even more often than Black men.

“In 2015, 15 percent of Black men left their law firms, while 17 percent of Black women did so, according to the MCCA. Black lawyers are also being hired by law firms at a lower rate than members of other groups, the MCCA said in its report,’ reported Bloomberg Law.

There are probably various reasons for these stats, one of the major being that Black women don’t feel welcome in Big Law.

“They leave because the firm culture is not conducive to success for people of color or people of color who are women,” said Paula T. Edgar, President of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, a New York City-based association of African-American and other minority lawyers.

According to Edgar, law firms should begin to look closely at diversity issues in regards to women and minorities.

“When somebody says, ‘Oh I’m talking about women in the law,’ you immediately think of white women,” she said. “There are things that are specific to the Black female lawyer experience that are not interchangeable with the white female lawyer experience, but there’s a lot of lumping together.”

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