Legal Profession


Experiencing Discrimination: Race and Retention in America's Largest Law Firms

Document Type

Law Review Article

Publication Date



lawyer retention rates


Although the number of racial and ethnic minority lawyers in the legal profession has greatly increased, concern remains about their low percentage among partners in elite law firms. Using a nationally representative sample of young American lawyers, we compare a human capital–based theory, which emphasizes measures of merit, and an institutional discrimination–based theory, which focuses on differences in partner contact and mentoring. The results indicate that institutional discrimination theory is the better way of understanding racial and ethnic differences in lawyer retention. Future affirmative action programs need to focus not just on access but also the processes within large firms if minority presence is to be increased.