Emerging Trends in Diversity Among Newly Admitted Attorneys
The number of attorneys admitted to the State Bar nearly doubled between 1970 and 1980 and stayed between 5,000 and 6,000 annually for the next few decades. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted this pattern in 2020. The July 2020 bar exam was rescheduled for October 2020, pushing the admissions timeline into early 2021 for those who passed that exam. As a result, just 2,663 attorneys were admitted in 2020, while nearly 10,000 were admitted in 2021 (see figure 9).
Note: The average number of admitted attorneys for 2020 and 2021 combined is 6,331.
Increasing Diversity Among Newly Admitted Attorneys
The share of attorneys newly licensed by the State Bar who identify as a woman and/or a person of color has increased substantially since 1970. The newest cohorts in the legal profession are far more diverse than those who have been in the profession for decades, with women comprising half of the newly admitted attorneys for the first time in 2003. People of color reached this milestone over 15 years later, and women and people of color comprised 53 and 51 percent of newly admitted attorneys, respectively, in 2019 (see figure 10).
The 2020 admitted cohort’s diversity was impacted by the decline in the number of admitted attorneys, with the share of attorneys identifying as women and people of color declining to 50 and 48 percent, respectively. However, in 2021, the percentage of newly admitted attorneys who were women and people of color increased to 56 and 53 percent respectively, continuing the trend of a more diverse population of admittees (see figure 10).
Figure 11 explores the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender among newly admitted attorneys. The share of men and women of color who comprised newly admitted attorneys increased steadily between 2010 and 2019. However, growth for women of color was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic; their share of admitted attorneys dropped two percentage points (29 percent to 27 percent). In contrast, the share of white men among the 2020 cohort of new attorneys increased by three percentage points compared with the prior year (25 percent to 28 percent). In 2021, the share of women of color among newly admitted attorneys rebounded and reached 32 percent of all 2021 admittees. In contrast, the share of men of color among newly admitted attorneys has stayed relatively flat. Women of color now comprise the largest group of newly admitted attorneys and are driving increasing racial/ethnic and gender diversity.
The State Bar's new licensees have become more racially and ethnically diverse, but the rate of change has varied by racial/ethnic group (see figure 12). Over the last three decades, the Hispanic/Latino share of newly admitted attorneys nearly tripled from 4 percent in 1990 to over 11 percent in 2021. Likewise, the proportion of new licensees who are Asian or multiracial has more than tripled. The rapid growth in the number of Asian attorneys began in the 1990s and has since leveled off. Over the same period, the proportion of newly licensed Black attorneys increased from 3 percent to 5 percent.
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