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September 30, 2010 7:12 PM

2010 Minority Experience Study:
Lost in the Shuffle

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When it was released in March, The American Lawyer's Diversity Scorecard set off alarm bells in some quarters by revealing that after a decade of steady, though modest, progress, the percentage of minority attorneys at the country's largest law firms had actually fallen slightly in 2009.

Those findings confirmed what those who care about diversity issues had feared for some time--that the recession was going to wind up taking a significant toll on minority lawyers.

Those worries are confirmed by the results of this year's version of The American Lawyer's Minority Experience Study, which analyzes the magazine's annual Midlevel Associates Survey by dividing the responses by racial group.

In her story describing the Minority Experience Study results, which is included in the fall 2010 issue of The American Lawyer Student Edition, writer Susan Hansen does find at least some positive news: for the most part, Hansen writes, associates across all ethnic groups appeared to be somewhat busier in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Still, Hansen reports, "Despite the general increase in work--and in line with a trend that has emerged in recent years--minority lawyers generally reported billing fewer hours than their white counterparts in 2009. On average, white lawyers billed 1,974 hours, Hispanic midlevels billed 1,945, Asian American midlevels billed 1,906, and African American midlevels billed 1,833 hours. (In 2008, by comparison, white lawyers billed 1,976 hours on average, Hispanics billed 1,965, Asian Americans billed 1,925, and African Americans billed 1,862.)"

Likewise, Hansen reports, "almost 15 percent of African American associates, and 10 percent of Asian American and Hispanic midlevels said their workloads were still too light, compared to just over 7 percent of white lawyers. And more than a quarter of Asian American and African American midlevels said they were worried about being laid off, in contrast to just under one-fifth of their white and Hispanic colleagues."

Hansen also notes that "Asian American and African American lawyers were also more likely to be actively seeking new jobs, and more pessimistic about the chances that they would still be at their current firms two years from now. While trends in that direction among African American associates have been apparent in recent years, their emergence among Asian Americans is a new development."

The idea that diversity efforts are stalling was further bolstered this week with the release of the latest Law Firm Diversity Database from Vault.com and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. Among the major findings:

•For the first time in its seven-year history, the survey showed virtually no increase in the percentage of minority equity partners.

•Of all attorneys hired in 2009, only about 19 percent were minorities, compared to nearly 22 percent in 2008.

•At 25.19 percent, the 2009 2L summer class had the lowest percentage of minority students in the last three years.

Putting all of this data together, it seems safe to say that on the diversity front, a trend is emerging.

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