Women and minority lawyers gain ground in Calif., but white men still predominate

Women walk at a business district. Picture taken on June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
  • New data from the State Bar of California highlights diverse class of new lawyers
  • Report also shows lags in representation of Hispanic and Black attorneys

(Reuters) - California admitted its most diverse cohort of new lawyers on record last year, with women and non-white attorneys comprising 53% and 51% of the class respectively, according to new figures from the State Bar of California.

Women of color are driving much of those gains. But overall, the Golden State’s lawyer base is far more white and male than its population — a dynamic bar leaders say they are working to change.

Two-thirds of California’s 195,000 lawyers are white, compared to 39% of adult residents, according to the state bar’s latest diversity report card, released Monday. Hispanics comprise 36% of California’s adult residents, but only 6% of its lawyers as of 2021. And Black lawyers comprise 3% of attorneys in the state, though 6% of Californians are Black.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

While women make up 51% of California’s adult residents, they comprise 44% of its lawyers, according to the state bar report.

California has the second-largest bar in the nation, behind New York. Nationwide, 38% of lawyers are women, according to the American Bar Association.

"While new entrants to the profession increasingly reflect the rich diversity of our state, we still have a long way to go towards the goal of demographic parity,” said California bar executive director Leah Wilson in a statement.

The composition of 2021’s class of new lawyers suggests that diversity efforts are producing results, however. Nearly a third (32%) are women of color, according to the bar’s data. Men of color made up 21% of the class, while white women were 24%.

The percentage of white men among new lawyer classes had been falling steadily since 2011 until the pandemic, when it ticked up as the proportion of women and attorneys of color fell, the data show. White men made up 22% of last year’s new lawyers in California.

The report also examined pay and practice settings and identified several areas where diverse lawyers are underrepresented. Women attorneys — particularly women of color — are far more likely to work in government or the non-profit sectors than white men, who are represented more heavily at law firms and among solo practitioners, according to the report.

Statewide, 69% of lawyers reported earning $199,000 or less annually, while 23% said they earn between $200,000 and $399,000. And 2% of the state’s lawyers said they make $1 million or more each year.

Women lawyers of color were disproportionately likely to fall into the lowest compensation band of $199,000 or less, at 76%. And 74% of white women reported income in that range, compared to 61% of white men.

Read more:

New lawyer demographics show modest growth in minority attorneys

Law firm diversity gains mainly confined to junior ranks, survey finds

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com