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February 16, 2021

ABA releases first Model Diversity Survey Report on law firm equity and inclusion

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2021 — The American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession today released its 2020 ABA Model Diversity Survey Report, the first report on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in law firm practice.

The Model Diversity Survey (MDS), developed in 2016, provides clients with a straightforward way to review and assess diversity, equity and inclusion of the legal service providers with which they work and to make decisions regarding hiring and retention based on the DEI efforts of those service providers. It assesses firm policies, practices and outcomes regarding hiring, attrition, promotion, leadership, work schedules and compensation. The MDS Report includes 2017-19 data from more than 370 law firms.

The report does not make recommendations, but it lists seven findings from the survey:

  • Firm leadership overwhelmingly consisted of white men relative to white women and racial, LGBTQ+ and disability minorities of any gender identity.
  • Hires and promotions/attrition suggest that representation of minority groups is growing at the bottom levels of associates but is declining at the higher levels of non-equity and equity partners.
  • Attrition rates were substantially larger for nonwhite attorneys (e.g., nearly three times larger for African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino attorneys) relative to white attorneys.
  • The percentage of white associates promoted to equity partner was slightly higher than the percentage of white associates promoted to non-equity partner. This pattern was reversed for female associates, and the associates of all other racial minority groups which displayed larger percentages promoted to non-equity partner than to equity partner.
  • Minority males and females consistently ranged between 0% to 2% of the top 10% highest-paid attorneys in law firms.
  • LGBTQ+, disability and the racial categories of Pacific Islander & Native American/Indigenous are largely missing from law firms or underreported in firm demographics, hiring, promotions, attrition and compensation. Most frequently, the average percentages were at or near zero for most of the analyses.
  • Firm size matters. Even within the same year, there were considerable fluctuations between firm sizes. Some of these fluctuations made sense as in larger average percentages were often reported among firms with 1 to 20 attorneys. Because of the relatively fewer numbers in these firms, any demographic group is likely to make up a higher proportion, often resulting in extreme percentages for a given firm. There were also some fluctuations between firm sizes within a given year that was not readily explainable.

The Model Diversity Survey is a product of  Resolution 113, which was adopted by the ABA in August 2016. It urges legal service providers to expand and create opportunities for diverse attorneys and urges the buyers of legal services to direct a greater percentage of their legal spending toward diverse attorneys.

The full report can be viewed online.

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