Changes in the Racial/Ethnic Representation of Summer Associates Since the Great Recession

NALP Bulletin+
May 2022

As noted in NALP's 2021 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, the 2021 summer associate class was the most diverse ever measured. In 2021, the representation of summer associates of color increased by nearly 5 percentage points over the previous year to 41.34% and the percentage of women summer associates of color grew by 3 percentage points to 25.14%. But when these data are further disaggregated by race/ethnicity, was the progress made in 2021 evenly distributed? And how does that compare to longer-term trends?

Table 1 and Chart 1 present trends since 2009 in the representation of Black, Latinx, and Asian summer associates. Overall, each group made gains in 2021 and were at historically high levels, but Asian associates saw the largest growth, increasing by about 2.2 percentage points from 13.86% of all summer associates in 2020 to 16.08% in 2021. In contrast, the share of Black summer associates grew by about 0.7 percentage points in 2021 to 11.14% — and that increase came exclusively from the growth in the percentage of Black women associates, which rose by 0.8 percentage points. Latinx summer associates increased by almost 1.1 percentage points to 8.81%, but they are still underrepresented when compared to NALP's graduate employment demographic data. For the Class of 2020, Latinx graduates accounted for 11.3% of all graduates and Black and Asian graduates each comprised 8.4% of all graduates.

When looking at the growth of women across these racial/ethnic groups in 2021, Asian women also experienced the largest gains — increasing by about 1.4 percentage points from 8.59% of all summer associates in 2020 to 10.03% in 2021. Latinx women increased by only 0.2 percentage points to 4.61% of all summer associates.

Longer-term trends since the height of the Great Recession in 2009 also show uneven growth by race/ethnicity. Overall, Black summer associates have experienced the smallest rise in representation, increasing by 3.7 percentage points from 7.41% to 11.14% of all summer associates. That compares to a 4.7-percentage-point gain for Latinx summer associates and a 5.4-percentage-point gain for Asian summer associates during this same time period. For women specifically, Latinx women had the smallest improvement of 2.4 percentage points, compared to increases of 3.0 percentage points for Black women and 4.4 percentage points for Asian women.

By comparison, these increases are all much better than the progress made at the associate level during the same time period, where, for example, Black associates have only increased by 0.6 percentage points to 5.22% since 2009. While there is much to be celebrated in the 2021 data, the rate of growth in the proportion of Black associates still lags behind that of Latinx and Asian associates. That differential is unlikely to change without adjustments in the rate of growth at the summer associate level.

Additional findings from NALP's 2021 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms are available at www.nalp.org/reportondiversity.


Table 1. Percentage of Summer Associates by Race/Ethnicity, 2009-2021

Year % Black % Latinx % Asian
% Total % Women % Total % Women % Total % Women
2009 7.41% 4.19% 4.11% 2.19% 10.73% 5.59%
2010 8.21% 4.67% 4.78% 2.43% 11.96% 6.74%
2011 7.88% 4.43% 4.81% 2.71% 11.97% 6.73%
2012 7.94% 4.35% 5.66% 2.92% 13.00% 7.30%
2013 7.52% 3.94% 5.57% 2.63% 13.59% 7.66%
2014 8.03% 4.34% 6.13% 3.32% 13.04% 7.48%
2015 8.43% 4.76% 6.02% 2.83% 13.47% 7.70%
2016 8.42% 4.89% 5.91% 3.19% 14.79% 8.05%
2017 9.07% 5.46% 7.04% 3.54% 13.10% 7.55%
2018 9.13% 5.51% 7.63% 4.33% 14.45% 8.70%
2019 9.39% 5.70% 7.84% 4.60% 14.26% 8.70%
2020 10.45% 6.35% 7.73% 4.42% 13.86% 8.59%
2021 11.14% 7.14% 8.81% 4.61% 16.08% 10.03%



Chart 1. Percentage of Summer Associates by Race/Ethnicity, 2009-2021




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