Law Firms Report More GLBT Lawyers, But Numbers Remain Small

NALP Bulletin, November 2008

The number of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) lawyers reported in the NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE) rose again in 2008, as it has every year since NALP began analyzing this information in 2003. In total, about 45% of offices reported at least one GLBT lawyer, but overall the numbers remain small, and the net increase in the number of GLBT lawyers reported since 2003 has been minimal.

This year there were a total of 2,050 GLBT lawyers reported in the 2008-2009 NDLE, constituting just 1.71% of the total lawyers represented in the directory. In the first year that NALP performed this analysis six years ago using data from the 2002-2003 NDLE, the number of openly gay lawyers reported was just over 1,100, less than 1% of the total lawyers represented in that directory. Last year, in the 2007-2008 NDLE, those numbers stood at 1,884 and 1.52%. Thus while the growth in the number of GLBT lawyers reported has been steady, it has been incremental, and the actual increase in numbers has not been significant.

According to NALP's Executive Director, James Leipold, these numbers have likely remained so low "not because there are actually so few GLBT lawyers practicing in the law firms represented in the NDLE, but because collecting accurate GLBT demographic data is difficult. While NALP encourages member law firms to allow lawyers to voluntarily self-identify as GLBT, some firms remain uncomfortable implementing such a process, or unwilling to do so, and even at firms that do a good job of collecting this data, for a variety of reasons some GLBT attorneys choose not to identify themselves."

As we have seen each year, the presence of GLBT lawyers is highest among associates, at 2.19%, as shown in the accompanying table, and is up a bit from the figure of 1.89% reported in 2007. Openly GLBT lawyers are also better represented at larger law firms, with firms of 501-700 lawyers reporting 2.69% GLBT associates, and firms of 701+ lawyers reporting 2.64% GLBT associates. Similarly, among the partnership ranks, GLBT lawyers are best represented at the nation's largest firms, with firms of 701+ lawyers reporting 1.85% GLBT partners, compared with less than half that, 0.87%, at firms of 100 or fewer lawyers, and just 1.27% among partners overall.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are wide geographic disparities in these numbers, and in fact about 61% of the GLBT lawyers reported in the directory are accounted for by just four cities: New York City, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The percentage of openly GLBT lawyers in these cities is correspondingly higher - about 2.8% overall (and almost 5% in San Francisco specifically) compared with the 1.7% nationwide figure.

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 45% reported at least one openly GLBT lawyer and 11% reported at least one openly GLBT summer associate. However, the most common response to the question of how many GLBT lawyers there are in a law office remains "zero." Unfortunately, for law firms that report having zero GLBT lawyers, zero does not always unambiguously mean zero. Since 2006, the data entry grid for lawyer demographic information in the NDLE has required each cell to be filled with a number, which can be zero, or either "NC" or "UNK" if the information was not collected or unknown. However, the default entry is zero and must be actively changed to reflect "not collected" or "unknown." Thus the very high proportion of zeroes may simply reflect a large number of law firms that do not change the default value for this information.

This year, however, despite more offices and lawyers generally represented in the NDLE, the percentage for whom GLBT status was reported, including counts of zero, actually decreased, from 92% in 2007 to 87% in 2008. Correspondingly, the percentage of offices reporting "not collected" or "unknown" rose to about 12% in 2008, from about 7% in 2007. This change may in fact reflect more deliberate use of the "unknown" and "not collected" reporting options for the demographic grid rather than actually reflecting a larger number of firms choosing not to collect this information.

"Over time, as societal norms continue to change, I believe that more and more firms will find a comfort level with a process that allows GLBT lawyers to self-identify, and more and more GLBT lawyers in law firm practice will actually choose to self-identify," concludes Leipold. "As corporate client diversity demands become more sophisticated, and as generational changes continue to drive law firm culture changes internally, law firms will have increasing incentives to produce more accurate GLBT lawyer counts, and that will, over time, allow us to more accurately measure the GLBT lawyer presence in the law firm work setting."

Reported Number of Disabled Lawyers Also Remains Small

Of the approximately 108,000 lawyers for whom disability information was reported in the 2008-2009 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE), just 219, or 0.20%, were identified as disabled, as shown in the accompanying table. About 18% of offices chose to report "not collected" or "unknown" for disabled counts. Among the offices collecting the information, about 13% 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 8 were reported as disabled.

Unlike the GLBT figures reported, the numbers of lawyers who are reported as disabled do not seem to vary in any systematic way either by firm size or by associate/partner status. The numbers reported are very low and percentages are about 0.20% overall.

Reporting of Openly GLBT and Disabled Lawyers — NALP Directory of Legal Employers — 2008

  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 670 1.27% 60 0.87% 129 0.98% 105 1.06% 62 1.05% 314 1.85%
Associates 1,209 2.19 58 1.20 127 1.40 175 1.90 192 2.69 657 2.64
All lawyers 2,050 1.71 130 1.00 274 1.11 313 1.47 274 1.88 1,059 2.29
Summer associates 184 1.85 5 0.70 19 1.28 35 2.02 32 2.38 93 1.98
Disabled
Partners 109 0.22 14 0.18 36 0.26 16 0.15 24 0.46 19 0.16
Associates 84 0.17 3 0.06 10 0.13 13 0.13 13 0.21 45 0.25
All lawyers 219 0.20 22 0.16 50 0.19 35 0.15 39 0.31 73 0.22

Note: Figures for openly GLBT lawyers are based on 1,382 offices/firms reporting counts, including zero, in all lawyer categories; figures for openly GLBT summer associates are based on 936 offices/firms reporting counts, including zero. Figures for disabled lawyers are based on 1,286 offices/firms reporting counts, including zero, in all lawyer categories. Overall, GLBT counts, including zero, cover 119,723 lawyers and 9,962 summer associates. Counts of disabled individuals, including zero, cover 108,447 lawyers and 11,099 summer associates. Because so few disabled summer associates were reported (8 total), they are not included in the table.

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