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Black Attorneys Still Underrepresented in Law Firms

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 25, 2017 12:59 PM

In an age when a black lawyer became President of the United States, it is surprising that black attorneys are the least represented ethnic group at American law firms.

According to a new survey, law firms have made little progress in diversity hiring. Only three percent of lawyers -- including associates and partners at more than 300 firms -- are black.

"Black lawyers are the least represented at every level," the ABA Journal reported.

Three and Thirty

While minority law school enrollment has topped 30 percent, black and Hispanic lawyers comprise 3 percent and 3.6 percent respectively of the law firm ranks. Asian-Americans -- the largest ethnic group in the survey -- make up 6.8 percent.

Nearly 85 percent of lawyers in the survey were white, "a number that has not meaningfully budged over the past three years," according to the Law360 2017 Diversity Snapshot.

Little has changed since then, when black lawyers faced similar numbers. But it is even worse now for black partners, who comprised 1.9 percent of the leadership ranks then but now represent 1.7 percent.

For black women, it was an "astonishingly low 0.6 percent," said FindLaw's William Peacock. That has not changed, according to a report by the National Association for Law Placement earlier this year.

'Believe in Yourself'

The Black Women Lawyers' Association of Greater Chicago met in March to talk about it. Among other topics, they discussed implicit bias, honing skills, developing relationships and moving on when necessary.

Judge Ann Claire Williams, who serves on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, said people of color should not carry a chip on their shoulder even when they sense prejudice.

"You have to have confidence and when people are prejudiced against you, or biased, and you know it and you see it, and we can feel it," she said. "You can't let that get you down."

Pamela Meanes, a partner at Thompson Coburn, said young attorneys need to be open to criticism and not to see it necessarily as discrimination. Most importantly, she said, minorities need to stick with it.

"So I want to encourage people to say, it is hard, it is difficult, but it is possible," she said. "And the only way we change the seats at the table is to remain in the room."

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