Unpacking the Pipeline

Evan Parker

In discussions about diversity and inclusion, legal industry observers often criticize law firms for their failure to keep pace with the increase in law school diversity. The criticism shows up in front-page headlines – for example, “Diversity stalls at top U.S. law firms.”

The key goal of the LawyerMetrix Diversity Imperative is to understand why diversity progress in law firms has stalled. In this volume, we take up the question of “Why” by unpacking AmLaw 200 firms’ hiring pipeline and investigating the racial/ethnic diversity trends for groups of law schools.

The Law School vs. Law Firm Diversity Gap

A quick review of the data reveals that, overall, the gap between law schools and law firms is indeed increasing.1 From 2011 to 2016, the average percentage of J.D.s awarded to students of color increased from 24% to 29%. Over the same period, the percentage of non-partner attorneys of color increased from 16% to 18%. Thus, the “diversity gap” between schools and firms increased – from 8% in 2011 (24% minus 16%) to 11% in 2016 (29% minus 18%).

Before criticizing firms for their more sluggish growth, however, it is important to account for one of the AmLaw 200’s longstanding hiring practices: to recruit largely from nationally-recognized law schools with established reputations, or in other words, to select on school “pedigree.” For this reason, a diversity trend summarized over all law schools misrepresents the true AmLaw pipeline.