July 29, 2022 Feature Article

Update on Second Edition of the Model Diversity Survey Report

Azuka Dike

The American Bar Association has four goals to achieve its Mission. Notably, Goal III seeks to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the legal profession. Under Goal III, diversity is considered race/ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ+ status and disability status.

The Model Diversity Survey is the primary tool to implement Resolution 113. The purpose of the Survey is to serve as the standard for law firms’ reporting of their diversity metrics. The benefits the survey has are data uniformity, time efficiency, and trending year over year in aggregate and for individual firms. Additionally, the survey results give companies an easy way to assess the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts of law firms with which they work.

This past spring the ABA released its second ABA Model Diversity Survey, conducted by the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, showing that large law firms hired more Hispanic, Black, and Asian associates in 2020 than in 2019. More than 100,000 attorneys and over 287 law firms across the country were included in the Survey, which measured firms’ demographics, hiring, promotions, compensation, retention, and diversity initiatives.

The new Model Diversity Survey report has received significant attention by several media outlets, including, Lawyer Monthly, Detroit Legal News, ABA Journal, Reuters, American Lawyer, National Law Journal, Above the Law, Law 360 and others. The Model Diversity Survey report does not make any specific recommendations, however, the survey found that:

  • Large law firms hired 1.5% more Hispanic associates, nearly 1% more Black associates and roughly 0.6% more Asian associates in 2000 than in 2019. They hired 4% fewer white associates.
  • Approximately 60% to 70% of law firm leaders in 2020 were white male attorneys. The number varied depending on the law firm’s size. Another 20% to 25% were white female attorneys, 5% to 8% were racially and ethnically underrepresented male attorneys, and 2% to 5% were racially and ethnically underrepresented female attorneys.
  • The vast majority of equity partners (81% to 93%, depending on the firm’s size) were white attorneys, but that number dipped slightly (nearly 2%) among large law firms in 2020. At the same time, the number of Hispanic, Asian, Black and multiracial equity partners rose slightly.
  • Black and Asian attorneys experienced the greatest attrition from law firms – 23% and 19% respectively in 2020. Attrition was higher among female lawyers (16%) than male lawyers (11%), regardless of law firm size.
  • For the most recent year, most law firms did not hire a single attorney who self-identified as either Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+, or having a Disability. White attorneys were almost twice as likely to be hired into partnership roles as other racial groups. Men were twice as likely to be hired into equity partner roles as women. Female attorneys were substantially more likely to be hired as associates.
  • LGBTQ+ attorneys were substantially less likely to be hired into partnership roles compared to non-LGBTQ+ attorneys.
  • Attorneys with a disability are underreported or underrepresented at every level.

The Survey is free of charge for corporate signatories and stakeholders and does not require a paid membership.  Corporations simply need to become a signatory to gain real-time access to any law firms’ diversity demographic data submitted. Currently, over 196 corporations are signatories. A list of the Model Diversity Survey Signatories can be found here.

To become a signatory, the general counsel is asked to do the following:

  • Notify the ABA that they support the Resolution and wish to sign the pledge;
  • Ask the firms that provide a significant portion of legal services to complete the Survey;
  • Require firms that are competing to handle a significant matter for the company to complete the Survey;
  • Use the Survey results, as a tool in determining what firms to retain or with which to continue doing business; and
  • Advise the ABA that they support the above four principles, such that an ongoing list of those that have committed to the principles can be maintained and published.
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