Women and minorities continued to make small, slow gains in their numbers at major American law firms last year, according to the National Association for Law Placement, a legal employment tracker.
The groups increased their representation among law firm partners in 2016. Women made up 22.13 percent of partners, compared with 21.46 percent in 2015. And minorities accounted for 8.05 percent of partners, up from 7.52 percent in 2015.
In the associate ranks, women held 45 percent of the positions last year, slightly more than the 44.68 percent they held in 2015, but not quite the 45.66 percent they held in 2009, the year law firms began to feel the effects of the economic crash. Minorities made up 22.72 percent of associates last year, up from 22 percent in 2015 and 19.67 percent in 2009.
The National Association for Law Placement issues the Report on Diversity at U.S. Law Firms, an annual compilation of the representation of women and minorities in the industry based on information from more than 112,000 partners, associates and other lawyers in 1,082 offices of law firms nationwide.
James G. Leipold, executive director of the association, said the national figures “mask many significant differences by law firm size and geography,” with larger firms having achieved more diversity than smaller firms.
“While it is encouraging to see small gains in most areas this year,” he said, “the incredibly slow pace of change continues to be discouraging.”
The increase in minority lawyers of all types is linked to the greater number of Asian lawyers in the associate ranks, the report found. They now make up 11.25 percent of all associates, up from 9.28 percent seven years ago, and Asian lawyers hold 3.13 percent of partnerships, an increase from 2.2 percent in 2009.
The percentage of Hispanic lawyers also climbed, reaching 4.42 percent last year, up from 3.95 percent in 2015. They represent 2.31 percent of partners compared with 1.65 percent at the outset of the recession.
By comparison, African-Americans held 1.81 percent of partnerships last year, slightly higher than 1.77 percent in 2015 and 1.71 percent in 2009. African-Americans made up 4.11 percent of associates, up from 3.95 percent in 2015, which is still below their 2009 level, 4.66 percent.
The report said that higher levels of representation of minorities among summer associate classes evaporate when it comes to permanent jobs. That difference “underscores that retention and promotion remain the primary challenges that law firms face with respect to diversity,” Mr. Leipold said.
The association, which has more than 2,500 legal career professionals as members, also tracks the number of lawyers with disabilities and who are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or L.G.B.T. The report noted that disabled lawyers are “scarce” at the associate and partner levels — only 283 lawyers across firms. The number of L.G.B.T. lawyers was 2,431 last year, including 825 partners. The report did not include figures for earlier years.