Further to our earlier entry on diversity and the recession, here is some additional data.

The New York Law Journal reported that the percentage of women partners and associates working at NLJ 250 law firms this year fell to its lowest point since 2006, accounting for 29.2% of all attorneys at NLJ 250 firms, compared to 32% of attorneys at those firms 5 years ago.  That is the lowest percentage since the NLJ began reporting gender breakdowns in 2006. Since 2006, the percentage of women partners and associates has declined slightly each year even as firms got bigger in each of those years.

The results have prompted a number of attempts at explanations.

Stephanie Scharf, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers Foundation, attributes the decline to a number of factors, such as structural changes in law firms, the increased use of staff attorneys and more lateral hiring, as well as the overall reduction in.associate ranks,where women are more highly represented.

Jessie Kornberg, executive director of Ms. JD, an online resource for women attorneys, contends that practicing law is simply becoming less attractive to women, particularly in light of the discouraging lack of improvement in hiring and work/life balance.

That opinion is supported by the reduction in the number of women admitted to law schools. According to the Law School Admission Council, in 2009 the number of women admitted was up by 3.9%, while the number of men rose by 5.7%.

Student group Building a Better Legal Profession, which is based at Stanford Law School and advocates for lawyer diversity, cautions that the data it has compiled indicates that much of the decline in diversity can be attributed to a small group of firms that have lost an outsize percentage of minorities.
Their diversity results varied greatly among firms, and even among different offices within the same firm, with the attrition rate among white associates in DLA Piper’s New York office, for example, much higher than the attrition rate among minority associates there, putting it near the top of the list of New York offices that retained minority associates, while the minority attrition rate in the firm’s Washington office was higher than the white attrition rate during the same period. 

The group  intends to present these findings in a searchable online database for the use of law students and clients looking for firms committed to diversity. 

The upshot seems to be (apart from the usual "if you torture statistics enough, you can make them say most anything") that some firms are showing what looks like at least even-handedness (to the extent they choose who is leaving), if not downright determination to keep their workforce diverse.  And some clearly aren’t.

Diversity is what firms do.