Report Finds Disparities In New U.S. Law Employment By Race/Ethnicity

By Douglas Lipsky

A new report from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) shows significant racial and ethnic disparities for law school graduates last year. In particular, Black, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander graduates landed positions requiring bar passage at significantly lower rates than white graduates.

“We continue to see that race, gender, and the level of parental education have profound effects on employment and salary outcomes after law school graduation, and we do not see those gaps closing over time,” noted James G. Leipold, NALP’s Executive Director. 

While multiple factors contribute to these disparities, the NALP report should serve as a wake-up call for the legal profession.

“I continue to believe that the entire profession, including law schools and legal employers, have a shared responsibility to work deliberately to close these gaps over time,” Leopold said.

Highlights of the NALP Report

Jobs & JDs, the NALP’s annual research report, breaks down the types of employment and salaries obtained by the Class of 2021, with data on nearly 97 percent of graduates from ABA-accredited law schools. In general, the report found that of employed 2021 graduates, Black, Native American, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander graduates were less likely to be employed in private practice than white law school graduates. 

The report also revealed disparities between first-generation college student graduates, those who do not have a parent with at least a bachelor’s degree, and continuing-generation JD graduates, those with at least one parent with a law degree. Other highlights of the NALP report: 

  • White JD graduates had the highest employment rate at 93.1 percent
  • The employment rate for African American, Native American, and Alaska Native graduates was 88.6 percent
  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander graduates had the lowest employment rate at 81.1 percent
  • White graduates had the highest level of employment in bar passage-required jobs at 81.0 percent
  • Only 65 percent of Black graduates and 58 percent of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders graduates landed jobs requiring bar passage

In short, disparities in employment outcomes by race and ethnicity persist. The report also found that continuing-generation JD students had higher overall employment rates and were more likely to land private practice jobs and judicial clerkships than first-generation college students. On a positive note, the NALP report found that women had the highest employment rate at 92.4 percent, but men had a higher median income ($80,000) than women ($75,000).

The Takeaway

Employers across multiple industries have begun focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion; however, the NALP report reveals racial and ethnic gaps in employment for law school graduates. At the same time, the report does not shed light on the reasons for these disparities or indicate whether discrimination is in play. But if you believe discriminatory hiring practices in the legal profession have limited your opportunities, talk to a supportive employment lawyer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.