July 18, 2017
Asian Americans have been the fastest-growing minority group in the legal profession for the past three decades, but they have made only limited progress in reaching the top ranks of the profession, according to a new report released today by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and Yale Law School.
The report, titled A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law, is the first-ever comprehensive study of Asian Americans in the legal profession.
According to the study, there are over 50,000 Asian American lawyers today, compared to 10,000 in 1990. Asian Americans comprise almost 5 percent of lawyers in America and roughly 7 percent of law school enrollment. But Asian American first-year enrollment is declining, and the number of Asian Americans who started law school in 2016 was at its lowest in more than 20 years.
For nearly 20 years, Asian Americans have been the largest minority group in major law firms, but they have the highest attrition rates and the lowest ratio of partners to associates.
Asian Americans comprise 3 percent of federal judges and 2 percent of state judges, compared to nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population. Only three out of 94 U.S. Attorneys in 2016 were Asian American, and only four out of 2,437 elected district attorneys nationwide in 2014 were Asian American.
The two-year study — authored by California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin H. Liu, recent Yale law graduates Eric Chung, Xiaonan April Hu and Christine Kwon, and Yale law postgraduate associate Samuel Dong — included a dozen focus groups and a national survey of over 600 Asian American lawyers.
The survey revealed that Asian American lawyers identify lack of access to mentors and contacts as a primary barrier to career advancement. They also report being perceived as careful and hard-working, but not assertive or creative. “Whereas Asian Americans are regarded as having the ‘hard skills’ required for lawyerly competence, they are regarded as lacking many important ‘soft skills,’” the study found. More than half of the Asian American lawyers surveyed said they “sometimes” or “often” experience implicit discrimination in the workplace. Women were more likely than men to report experiencing discrimination on the basis of race and barriers to career advancement.
“Our study shows that Asian Americans have a foot in the door in every sector the legal profession,” said Justice Liu. “The question now is how wide the door will swing open. Despite much progress, Asian Americans still face significant obstacles to reaching the leadership ranks.”
“This important and timely study uncovers the facts behind implicit biases, stereotypes, and other challenges faced by Asian American lawyers,” said Miriam Kim, president of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA) and partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson. “By understanding the obstacles Asian Americans have overcome to gain a foothold as law practitioners, we are reminded that our work is not yet finished. The report will serve as a tremendously helpful guide as we continue to empower Asian American lawyers to attain positions of leadership in the legal profession.”
“This is the first comprehensive and a long overdue report with some surprising conclusions about the API American attorney world,” said Dale Minami, a partner with Minami Tamaki in San Francisco. It is “both a clear description on the current state of API attorneys and a call to action to achieve parity.”
“This is a groundbreaking study of Asian Americans in the legal profession,” said Eumi K. Lee, Clinical Professor of Law at University of California Hastings College of Law. “No other study has tracked Asian American lawyers across the various sectors and examined their development over the course of this many years. This study will provide an empirical framework as we seek to find solutions for the advancement of Asian American lawyers and law students.”
“This report is incredibly eye-opening and confirms what we have been feeling,” said John W. Kuo, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for Varian Medical Systems. “This phenomenon is also present in the corporate world, as evidenced by the fact that only a small and under-represented percentage of the F500/1000 companies have Asian American General Counsels/Chief Legal Officers at the helm of their legal functions.”
Justice Liu will present the findings of The Portrait Project at the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Western Regional Conference on Friday, July 21, 2017 in San Jose, California.
For more information, the media may contact Miriam Kim, AABA President, 415-512-4041, firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions about the study may be sent to email@example.com.