Although Most Firms Collect GLBT Lawyer Information, Overall Numbers Remain Low

NALP Bulletin, December 2007 

The number of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) lawyers reported in the NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE) rose again in 2007, as it has every year since NALP began analyzing this information in 2003. Also, the percentage of offices reporting at least one GLBT lawyer increased slightly.

Overall, however, the numbers remain relatively small. Five years ago, the number of openly gay lawyers reported in the 2002-2003 NDLE was just over 1,100, less than 1% of the total lawyers represented. Last year, in the 2006-2007 NDLE, those numbers stood at 1,733 and 1.42%. In the 2007-2008 NDLE, the number of openly GLBT lawyers now stands at 1,884 and 1.52% of the total lawyers represented.

The presence of GLBT lawyers is highest among associates, at 1.89%, as shown in the accompanying table, and is up slightly from the figure of 1.78% reported in 2006. Openly GLBT lawyers are also better represented at larger law firms, with firms of 501-700 lawyers reporting 2.95% openly GLBT associates, and firms of 701+ lawyers reporting 2.16% openly GLBT associates. Similarly, openly GLBT partners are best represented at the nation's largest firms, with firms of 701+ lawyers reporting 1.67% openly GLBT partners, compared with only 1.19% among partners overall.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are wide geographic disparities in these numbers, and in fact about 59% of the reported openly GLBT lawyers are accounted for by just four cities: New York City, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The overall percentage of openly GBLT lawyers in these cities is correspondingly higher - about 2.5% compared with the 1.5% nationwide figure.

Some of the increases in total counts reflect the steadily increasing number of offices/firms listing in the NDLE each year. However, changes in reporting procedures which make it easier to exclude from analyses firms that do not collect this information have been in place for two years, making percentages more closely comparable. Starting with the 2006 NDLE, firms could no longer leave any of the demographic grid blank. Instead, all portions of the grid had to be filled with a number, which could be zero, or either NC or UNK if the information was not collected or unknown. About 7% of offices chose to report "not collected" or "unknown" for GLBT counts. Put another way, over 90% of firms/offices reported counts for GLBT and disabled lawyers. It should be noted, however, that reported counts of zero do not unambiguously mean zero, since the default entry was zero and had to be changed to reflect "not collected" or "unknown."

Nonetheless, it is clear that the overall number of GLBT lawyers is higher than ever before. NALP has been collecting demographic information on GLBT lawyers since 1996. In the years that have followed, the number of firms that give their GLBT lawyers an opportunity to self-identify has continued to rise. This year, among the offices/firms reporting counts, about 40% reported at least one openly GLBT lawyer and 10% reported at least one openly GLBT summer associate.

Reported Number of Disabled Lawyers Also Remains Small

Of the approximately 124,000 lawyers for whom disability information was reported in the 2007-2008 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE), just 211, or 0.17% were identified as disabled, as shown in the accompanying table. About 7% of offices chose to report "not collected" or "unknown" for disabled counts. Among the offices collecting the information, about 10% reported at least one disabled lawyer, but only a handful reported at least one disabled summer associate. In fact, out of more than 11,000 summer associates, only eight were reported as disabled.

Unlike the GLBT figures reported, the numbers of lawyers who are reported as disabled do not seem to vary much either by firm size, or by associate/partner status, with the numbers reported being very low and percentages less than 0.20% across the board.

Reporting of Openly GLBT and Disabled Lawyers —
NALP Directory of Legal Employers — 2007

All Firms Firms of 100 or Fewer Lawyers Firms of 101-250 Lawyers Firms of 251-500 Lawyers Firms of 501-700 Lawyers Firms of 701+ Lawyers
# Reported % of Total # Reported % of Total # Reported % of Total # Reported % of Total # Reported % of Total # Reported % of Total
Openly GLBT:
Partners 666 1.19% 69 0.88% 130 0.91% 128 1.04% 87 1.37% 252 1.67%
Associates 1,056 1.89 58 1.07 120 1.24 176 1.56 237 2.95 465 2.16
All lawyers 1,884 1.52 118 0.81 269 1.01 40 1.29 353 2.19 63 1.94
Summer associates 197 1.75 7 0.79 15 0.91 32 1.52 59 3.19 84 1.77
Partners 104 0.19 13 0.16 31 0.21 22 0.18 20 0.30 18 0.13
Associates 75 0.14 7 0.13 15 0.15 7 0.06 21 0.25 25 0.13
All lawyers 211 0.17 23 0.16 55 0.20 37 0.14 45 0.27 51 0.14

Note: Figures for openly GLBT lawyers are based on 1,447 offices/firms reporting counts, including zero, in all lawyer categories; figures for openly GLBT summer associates are based on 1,065 offices/firms reporting counts, including zero. Figures for disabled lawyers are based on 1,455 offices/firms reporting counts, including zero, in all lawyer categories. Overall, GLBT counts, including zero, cover 124,007 lawyers and 11,245 summer associates. Counts of disabled individuals, including zero, cover 123,151 lawyers and 11,099 summer associates. Because so few disabled summer associates were reported (8 total), they are not included in the table.

GLBT Lawyers Undercounted for Several Reasons

Commentary submitted on behalf of the NALP GLBT Section by Andrew Chapin, Director of Public Interest Scholars & Counseling at Fordham Law, with the assistance of Section members

Several factors contribute to the reported low numbers of GLBT individuals within the legal profession. You may be surprised to learn that a large number of GLBT law students are not openly gay when it comes to employment. Even in cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York, which are proud of their large gay communities, some law students are reticent about their sexual orientation, fearing that discrimination now or down the road may block their chosen career path. And others, usually younger and toward the more radical end of the political spectrum, reject putting any label on their sexual orientation — some would go so far as to not label their gender.

Alternatively, the conservative and risk-adverse environment of the practice of law makes it astonishing to me (as an openly gay man for decades and a left-leaning product of the 60s and 70s) that as many as 1.52% are openly gay while 30 states still lack statewide protection from employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation (though many states have a network of protective local laws). ENDA (federal legislation adding sexual orientation to protected categories) may have changed this by the time this article is published (though it might not include protection for transgender persons).

Despite the evidentiary reasons why GLBT lawyers are undercounted, employers should note that students are measuring law firms' efforts by the information they report. The roughly 7% of employers in the 2007-08 NALP Directory of Legal Employers reporting that their number of GLBT attorneys is "not collected" or "unknown" should be aware that law students (GLBT and non-GLBT alike) commonly interpret these figures as reflecting the culture of the employer, seeing "not collected" and "unknown" as homophobic and reflecting poor firm management, especially in offices employing 50 or more attorneys. Although the employer's fine print often states commitment to and interest in diversity, law students, like many in the employment market, believe actions and numbers over statements, and in 2007, they expect a well-managed place of employment to be a place of diversity at all levels.

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