Demographics and Diversity in the Legal Profession
2023 will mark the 30th anniversary of the appointment of the first woman to serve as Attorney General of the United States, Janet Reno. When Reno began her tenure, women made up only 1 in 4 lawyers, a sharp increase from less than 1 in 25 in 1960 when Reno graduated from law school.
Since that time, the US has witnessed a drastic change in gender and race equality due to changes in workforce inclusion. This applies to the demographics and diversity in the legal profession as well. Even though the percentage of lawyers who are men and women of color – Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American, and mixed race – has grown over the past decade, researchers note that this change is occurring too slowly or not at all in many other areas.
Join us below for a brief overview of gender and ethnicity data that reveals insights into diversity changes taking place within the legal industry.
Diversity of Legal Degree Recipients
To quickly get your bearings, we suggest starting with an entry point if you’re planning to pursue a legal career, specifically a legal degree. Let’s examine the share of universities that offer Legal programs by the total number of graduates.
Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) suggests that the top 3 institutions to award a legal degree in 2020 in the US were:
- University of Southern California (2.47%)
- Georgetown University (2.2%)
- New York University (1.65%)
The Shift in Gender Imbalance Among Graduates
MOST COMMON SEX WITH A DEGREE IN THIS FIELD
Over the past decade, the percentage of female lawyers has increased as more women and fewer men are enrolling in law school every year. We can now observe how female legal graduates now outnumber male graduates, representing 60.3% out of the total percentage of legal degree recipients.
Ethnic Minorities Among Legal Graduates
The percentage of legal graduates who are men and women of color – Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American, and mixed race – rose slowly over the past decade. However, nearly all people of color are underrepresented in the legal profession compared to their demographics in the U.S.
White students still earned the largest share of legal degrees.
MOST COMMON RACE OR ETHNICITY
- White (31,881 degrees awarded)
- Hispanic or Latino (8,192 degrees awarded)
- Non-resident Alien (7,351 degrees awarded)
The following graph shows the number of law degrees earned by race & ethnicity.
Race and Ethnicity of Legal Graduates by Sex
MOST COMMON RACE/ETHNICITY AND SEX COMBINATION
- White Male (10,829 degrees awarded)
- White Female (10,532 degrees awarded)
- Hispanic or Latino Female (2,557 degrees awarded)
White male students, who earn the highest number of degrees in this field, are still the most common combination of race/ethnicity. However, if we take a closer look at the charts, we can observe a notable shift that began around 2012. The percentage of female graduates outnumbering male graduates thanks to the rising number of Hispanic or Latino and Black or African American ethnic groups receiving law degrees.
The chart below represents the gradual shift in differences by sex for each race & ethnicity of Professional Doctorate recipients in Legal.
Diversity in the Legal Services Industry and Legal Occupations
Now that we’ve learned some interesting facts about gender and race among legal degree recipients, let’s go over the demographics of US professionals in the legal services industry.
While trusted associations like the American Bar Association (ABA) most commonly publish research data on lawyers, we tend to fall under the false impression that the industry consists only of such, which is not exactly true. On the contrary, the legal services industry group consists of a wide variety of occupations, with lawyers as only one of them.
So do male attorneys still vastly outnumber female attorneys? Yes, they do. According to the Census Bureau, 59.5% of Lawyers, judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers are Male. But to make a fair judgment on gender and ethnic compositions, we need to study the data of the legal industry as a whole. For this purpose, we’ve used data samples presented by the United States Census Bureau and the BLS on all professionals working in the US legal industry.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the top three occupations in the group are:
- Lawyers, judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers
- Paralegals and legal assistants, secretaries and administrative assistants
- Title examiners, abstractors, and searchers.
Composition of Legal Industry Workers by Sex
Interesting to know
The first female lawyer in the United States was Margaret Brent from Maryland. She was appointed an attorney in 1648. The ABA introduced the Margaret Brent Award in 1991 to acknowledge the achievements of female lawyers.
Now that we’ve got our hand on more extensive data samples, we’ve learned that 59.6% of workers in the legal services industry are female, making them the majority in the industry.
This chart shows the breakdown by sex in the Legal Services Industry.
Wage by Sex in Common Legal Industry Jobs
Surprisingly, the chart shows no significant gap between wage distribution by sex.
Beyond that, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), as of 2019, the average female salary across the legal industry was $156,387 compared to the $153,174 male average wage. This means that male workers in the legal services Industry make 0.979 times less than their female counterparts.
Wage by Race & Ethnicity in Common Legal Industry Jobs
Interesting to know
The first African American lawyer in the U.S. was Macon Bolling Allen, who passed the Maine bar exam in 1844.
The legal industry’s Black, Asian, and minority ethnic solicitors paint a different picture. These demographics have a more significant pay gap by ethnicity, resulting in slower career development, a lower percentage of individuals making law firm partners or associates, bad impacts on retention rates, and so on.
On average, white legal service employees earn 1.05 times more than other races and ethnicities.
The following chart displays race and ethnicity-based wage disparities in the five most common specializations in the Legal Services Industry Group.
There are more than 1.3 million lawyers in the United States, and the employment rate in legal occupations is estimated to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030. With this in mind, increased diversity in the legal field is critical at all recruitment and career advancement levels. It need not be stated that visible examples and statistics can influence the decisions of young individuals aspiring to enter a certain profession in the first place. Yet, some findings show that there are specific barriers to entry into some professions for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups, including a lack of role models and connections within specific industries.
The advantages of a diverse and inclusive profession are manifold. It should go without saying that it is essential to ensure that a specific profession attracts and recruits the finest people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or other backgrounds.
Ultimately, it is a moral imperative for employers and professional regulators not just to encourage but to create an inclusive, diverse, and representative legal industry to maintain its integrity and trust throughout the society it serves.
The data presented in this material comes from open-source directories.
It would be impossible to conduct this research without the resources mentioned below, so I encourage you to visit them if you are interested in a more in-depth analysis of national and industry-specific occupational employment:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures labor market activity, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy to support public and private decision making.
The Census Bureau – the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy.
The Data USA team consists of economists, data scientists, designers, researchers, and business executives, who work with input from policymakers, government officials, and everyday citizens to develop Data USA, the most comprehensive website and visualization engine for public US Government data.
The American Bar Association – The ABA is the largest voluntary professional association in the world. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.