A Look at How the Distribution of Law Firm Jobs Taken by Law Graduates Has Fluctuated by Gender and Race

NALP Bulletin, December 2013

Historically, women and minorities are less likely to take jobs in law firms, but when they do, they are more likely to obtain those jobs in larger firms. For example, for the Class of 2012, 52.3% of employed men obtained a job in private practice, compared with 49.0% of employed women — a 3.3 percentage point differential. For employed minorities and non-minorities, the respective percentages were 47.5% and 51.6%, just over a 4 percentage point differential. In 2007, the recent high-water mark for employment in general, 58.7% of employed men took a job in private practice compared with 55.0% of employed women, a 3.7 percentage point differential. For employed minorities, the figure was 55%, compared with 57.6% for employed non-minorities, a 2.6 percentage point differential.

This article delves more deeply into law firm jobs, comparing how the distribution of these jobs by firm size has fluctuated since 2007 for various demographic groups. Over this period, the percentage of law firm jobs in the largest firms of more than 500 lawyers has gone down for everyone, and the percentage of jobs in firms of 2-10 has gone up for everyone. The percentage of law firm jobs in the largest firms taken by women has exceeded that for men by 1.3 to 2.0 percentage points, with the largest differences in 2010 and 2011.

Differentials between racial and ethnic minorities and white graduates (either male or female) are larger and have fluctuated more. As is the case when comparing men and women, the percentage of law firm jobs in firms of 2-10 lawyers went up for all groups, and the percentage of law firm jobs in firms of more than 500 lawyers went down for all groups, with some recovery in 2012, but not to pre-recession levels. Among employed graduates obtaining jobs in private practice, Asian/Pacific Islanders are most likely to obtain that job in a large firm. In 2008, the differential with white graduates obtaining jobs in law firms climbed to over 17 percentage points, before dropping the next three years to 12.3 percentage points in 2011. In 2012 the differential climbed to 16 percentage points.

African-American/Black graduates taking jobs in law firms are also more likely than their white counterparts to obtain that job in a large firm. The differential was as large as 8.8 percentage points in 2007 before dropping back to just over 6 percentage points in 2011. In 2012 the differential widened to 7.5 percentage points, again not quite back to the 2008 figure.

Both Asian/Pacific Islander and African-American/Black employed graduates taking jobs in law firms are less likely to obtain that job in a firm of 2-10 lawyers than are white graduates taking jobs in law firms, with the differential the smallest in 2010 for both groups. The differential between employed Asian/Pacific Islander graduates in large firms and employed African-American/ Black graduates taking jobs in large firms was over 8 percentage points in 2008 and 2009, shrank somewhat in 2010 and 2011, and then bounced right back to 8.5 percentage points in 2012.

Figures for Hispanic graduates are not included in the second table to maintain readability. In general, the changes over the six-year period noted earlier also applied to Hispanics. Among Hispanics taking jobs in law firms, the percentage taking jobs in small firms (2-10 lawyers) has consistently exceeded that of other groups, while the percentage taking jobs in the largest firms has consistently been smaller in all years except 2007 - when white graduates ranked at the bottom on this measure, and the percentage of law firm jobs taken by Hispanic graduates which were in firms of more than 500 lawyers exceeded that of white graduates by 3 percentage points. The differential was flipped from 2008-2011 and the percentages were close to even in 2012. Please feel free to contact me at jcollins@nalp.org if you want more details on this topic.


Size of Firm by Gender — 2007-2012 (percent of jobs in each firm size)

Firm Size
(# of lawyers)
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men
Solo 2.1% 3.4% 2.5% 4.0% 3.8% 6.4% 4.1% 6.9% 4.4% 7.3% 3.9% 6.0%
2-10 31.6 31.1 31.7 31.4 34.3 32.8 39.8 38.5 43.4 42.5 43.6 42.6
11-25 9.0 9.3 8.0 8.8 7.0 8.1 8.4 9.3 9.9 10.9 9.9 10.0
26-50 5.3 6.2 5.9 6.1 4.5 4.9 5.2 5.3 6.0 6.2 5.4 5.9
51-100 5.7 5.4 5.1 4.9 4.3 4.8 4.1 4.2 5.2 4.9 4.2 4.8
101-250 7.9 8.5 7.7 7.6 7.2 6.8 5.9 5.3 5.9 5.6 5.8 5.3
251-500 9.4 8.4 8.4 8.1 7.9 6.8 5.9 6.1 5.3 4.8 5.4 5.2
501+ 23.7 22.3 26.0 24.7 26.5 24.9 21.6 19.6 17.3 15.3 19.8 18.5
# of Jobs* 9,361 11,097 9,235 11,242 8,853 11,228 8,267 10,002 7,865 9,714 8,566 10,417

*    Figures show the number of law firm jobs for which graduate gender was also reported, and include both full- and part-time jobs and all types of jobs.


Size of Firm by Race — 2007-2012 (percent of jobs in each firm size)

Firm Size
(# of lawyers)
2007 2008 2009
Asian/
P. Islander
African-
American
White Asian/
P. Islander
African-
American
White Asian/
P. Islander
African-
American
White
Solo 1.7% 4.1% 2.9% 1.6% 4.8% 3.5% 3.6% 6.5% 5.3%
2-10 23.0 21.7 33.1 24.4 21.3 32.9 23.6 26.8 35.6
11-25 7.1 4.9 9.9 5.2 4.9 9.2 6.4 3.9 8.4
26-50 4.4 4.1 6.3 4.4 3.8 6.5 3.5 4.6 4.9
51-100 5.7 6.0 5.4 4.6 5.9 5.2 3.7 4.3 4.8
101-250 7.5 11.2 8.1 6.9 9.8 7.6 7.1 7.5 7.1
251-500 10.3 13.3 8.3 8.2 12.1 8.0 9.3 10.9 6.9
501+ 35.1 28.0 20.9 40.4 31.8 23.0 38.6 30.2 23.0
# of jobs* 1,674 1,103 14,956 1,677 916 14,980 1,511 970 14,418
Firm size
(# of lawyers)
2010 2011 2012
Asian/
P. Islander
African-
American
White Asian/
P. Islander
African-
American
White Asian/
P. Islander
African-
American
White
Solo 3.6% 8.5% 5.6% 2.3% 11.1% 6.0% 3.0% 7.6% 5.2%
2-10 32.7 32.6 40.2 36.0 33.4 44.9 35.4 34.8 45.1
11-25 6.6 4.7 9.9 9.3 7.2 11.3 7.2 7.2 10.8
26-50 4.2 3.1 5.9 5.6 4.9 6.6 4.3 4.2 6.2
51-100 4.4 4.6 4.4 5.0 6.6 5.3 4.6 5.8 4.5
101-250 5.6 6.4 5.8 7.0 6.9 5.7 5.3 6.4 5.7
251-500 6.8 7.3 5.9 5.7 7.2 4.6 6.3 6.8 4.9
501+ 31.0 26.0 18.0 25.9 19.9 13.6 32.0 23.5 16.0
# of jobs* 1,346 766 12,924 1,271 709 12,673 1,421 792 13,683

*    Figures show the number of law firm jobs for which graduate race was also reported, and include both full- and part-time jobs and all types of jobs.

Column percentages do not add to 100 because the firm size unknown category is not shown. See the final paragraph of the article for comments about Hispanic graduates. Source: NALP's Employment Report and Salary Survey, 2007-2012.

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