A major new survey of the American legal sector has found the profession is moving painstakingly slowly towards a more diverse environment.
The 98-page report, compiled by the American Bar Association, shows the US lags behind the solicitors profession in England and Wales for gender and racial diversity.
In almost every measurement, the US profession has moved towards greater diversity, but often by small steps. Introducing the report this month, ABA president Bob Carlson admitted the US profession ‘evolves very slowly’.
The percentage of female lawyers is now 36%. That is up from 31% in 2009 but has not shifted in the past three years. This is based on the information collected from the 44 state bars and state licensing agencies that report diversity data. In comparison, nearly half (48%) of all solicitors in England and Wales are women, according to the latest SRA statistics.
The US figures also show that the number of females in senior leadership roles of law firms has been largely stagnant for at least a decade, rising from 15% in 2012 to 19% in 2019.
In 2019, 22.7% of law firm partners were female, a percentage that has risen incrementally each year since 2000, when the percentage was 14.5%. In 2019, 45.9% of all law firm associates were female, rising steadily from 40.9% in 2000.
The percentage of lawyers who are racial or ethnic minorities – including Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American and mixed race – has grown slowly over the past decade. Collectively, the number of minority lawyers grew three percentage points since 2009 and is now at 15% of all lawyers. In the UK, more than 20% of lawyers are black, Asian and ethnic minority.
Nearly all minorities are under-represented in the US: 5% of lawyers are African American (unchanged in 10 years) compared with 13.4% of the population, 5% of lawyers are Hispanic compared with 18.1% of the population, and 2% of lawyers are Asian, while the US population is 5.8% Asian.
Overall, in the US legal profession in the past year, from 2018 to 2019, the number of active lawyers grew by 0.7%. It was the third time in the past four years that annual growth was less than 1%, a marked slowdown from earlier in this century.
Average earnings have increased slowly in recent years, but at less than the rate of inflation since 2010. The average salary today is $144,230 (around £120,000).