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Asian and Native American female lawyers get the least amount of big law business, study finds

Asian and Native American lawyers are chosen least often by corporations looking to hire counsel, a new study found.
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Asian women in law are chosen least often by corporations looking to hire counsel, a new study by the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession found. And experts say the vast majority of diversity spending goes to hiring white women. 

“When corporate clients, even those who value diversity, are thinking about outside counsel, they are not giving significant amounts of business to women, to people of color,” said Sandra Yamate, CEO of the IILP. “Native American women and Asian American women are the poorest in terms of this.”

Nearly 72% of corporations surveyed said they give less than 10% of their business to Asian American lawyers, the study found. Less than a quarter said they gave no business at all to Asian American lawyers. Native American lawyers see a similar lack of representation. While almost half of corporations said they give less than 10% of their business to Native Americans attorneys, 41% said they gave them no business at all.

It’s a fact that makes it notoriously hard for Asians, particularly women, to advance in the legal profession, she said. Though Asian Americans in law enter the private sector at the highest rates, they advance at the lowest. 

“The conversion rate from associate to partner is the lowest for Asian Americans,” she said. “This data shows a really good reason why. They’re not getting business.” 

While Black and Latina lawyers fare slightly better in corporate hirings, the difference isn’t significant, Yamate said. White men still dominate by a large margin, white women decidedly fall behind them, and other minority groups trail by a large margin across genders. 

“White men are faring far better than every other group that we disaggregate,” she said. “[Asian] men are doing a little bit better than [Asian] women. Like with white women, they’re not doing extraordinarily well. But the difference between what Asian American women or Native American women are getting was so striking because they’re getting so little.”

And though many corporations collect their diversity data, few actually put it to use, the study found. In its survey of corporate clients, many of which are Fortune 500 companies, most said they didn’t set any goals when it came to diversity. 

When it comes to non-Judeo-Christian religious diversity, businesses almost never even make an attempt, the study found, noting for example that Muslim and Sikh lawyers tend to fall by the wayside. 

“There have always been people in the profession who like to talk about how some of these underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups, that if we just wait long enough, they will enter the profession in greater numbers, they will rise within it,” she said. 

But it’s not just a question of waiting, she said, because in many cases, no concerted effort is being made to diversify. The legal field is still one of the most homogenous in the U.S., the study notes. 

“People in the decision-making process need to be more attuned to these challenges,” she said. “We need to be looking at the legal profession as sort of a microcosm of broader society. It doesn’t operate in a silo.”