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Left Out and Left Behind - ABA.pdf
26 June 2020
News

Why have 70% of women lawyers of color left or want to leave the legal profession?

According to a report by the American Bar Association (ABA), 70% of women lawyers of color in the United States have either quit or are considering quitting the legal profession. 

At the moment, 2% of the partners in the equity departments of large law firms are women lawyers of color. They participated in this report thirty-eight focus group participants participated in 11 focus groups conducted in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City.

“Women of color have the highest rate of attrition from law firms as they continue to face firm cultures where their efforts and contributions are neither sufficiently recognized nor rewarded,” according to this report (attached). 

The team responsible for this report claims to have encountered difficulties in finding women lawyers of colour who have been in the labour market for 15 years since completing their university education.

“The bias that I face as a woman of color has become the elephant in the room”, said one of the interviewees. “It means that I have to keep proving myself to clients, peers, superiors, subordinates, even after each success”.

A past commissioner of the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession, Eileen Letts, showed his concern about the women of color situation in the legal sector:  

“There are a number of women lawyers of color and they are just not in the hierarchy at law firms”, said Letts. “I was not surprised they weren’t getting the opportunities. They weren’t getting the mentors. They weren’t getting the sponsors. They weren’t getting the client contacts. They weren’t getting the positive feedback. I was not surprised”.

But female lawyers still continue to pursue leadership roles, said former ABA president Paulette Brown: “Even though they don’t get them, they still keep trying (…) They are persistent. They are resilient. They are still able to achieve certain milestones with all of the impediments”.

One of the main aspects that the report noted is the disparity between color female lawyers and white color lawyers. “Many women of color want to leave the profession because they see the disparity between themselves and their white counterparts but do not see viable alternatives to their current situation,” the report said.

Also, the report include several recommendations to reverse the current situation:

 • Adopt best practices for reducing biases in decision-making. The report calls for “serious consideration” of who is making decisions critical to advancement and success, how they’re making decisions, and whether the decisions adequately consider the potential for biases.

• Improve access to effective, engaged mentors. Female lawyers of color report being more likely to have mentors than others, but their mentors are less likely to have influence at the firm.

• Incorporate an intersectional approach to addressing diversity and gender. Gender, race and other social identities can interact to create distinct experiences.

• Create a more inclusive culture in the legal profession.

• Improve access to effective, engaged mentors. Female lawyers of color report being more likely to have mentors than others, but their mentors are less likely to have influence at the firm.

• Go beyond recruitment to focus on inclusion and retention.

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