Just a heads up on those initial reports that the recession has not impacted minorities and women in the legal profession.  The most recent data from a survey done by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association shows that fewer minority candidates are being hired and promoted, and they are leaving their jobs at a faster clip, while women seem to be holding their own.

The number of summer associates hired in 2009 dropped by 20%, and the past year’s summer class had the lowest percentage of minority students in three years. The percentage of minorities hired by law firms at all levels in 2009 was 19%, compared to nearly 22% in 2008.

And for the first time in seven years, the percentage of minority equity partners did not increase but remained virtually flat, nudging up from 6.05% in 2008 to 6.06% in 2009 at the 263 law firms surveyed.  Meanwhile, minority attorneys left their firms at higher numbers in 2009. They represented 13.4% of the attorneys at the firms surveyed, but accounted for nearly 21% of those leaving during 2009.

The survey did find a little good news on the diversity front: there was a small increase in minority non-equity partners — from 8.5% in 2008 to 9% in 2009, and the percentage of minorities serving on management committees and in executive positions inched up to 5.5%.

Women evidently came through the year with a small gain, constituting 16.8% of equity partners in 2009, compared to 16.5% in 2008. Their numbers also grew in the non-equity ranks and on management committees. 

Of course the concern is that in a continuing hunkering down mode, firms will not return to pre-recession diversity levels any time soon, presenting the danger that what is for now a one-time drop in minority recruitment, promotion and retention could have a long-term impact on overall law firm populations. And thus on the integrity and effectiveness of client service and therefore on the future growth of revenue.

P.S. As a follow-up, NALP just published their own survey data with substantially similar conclusions. Nationally, the proportion of women and minority associates in law firms dropped slightly for the first time since NALP began collecting statistics in 1993. The percentage of women associates slipped from 45.66% to 45.41%. The percent of minority associates dipped from 19.67% to 19.53%. Partner ranks showed gains nationally for women and minorities, though the drop in associates meant law firms as a whole became less diverse.  

In New York, minority associates dropped to 23.25% this year from 23.95% in 2009, and minority partners dipped to 6.29% from 6.38%.  The proportion of women associates was relatively flat at 44.97%, and women partners increased to 16.99% from 16.85%.