Where are the Asian-American partners?

    By: Kelsey Vuillemot on Mar 20, 2017

    Vivia Chen writes, "What are Asian-American lawyers complaining about now? By many measures, they are runaway successes. In 2016, Asian associates represented more than 11 percent of all associates in major firms, the National Association for Law Placement said, while Hispanics and blacks only made up 4.4 and 4.1 percent, respectively. Moreover, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) reports that 31 Asian Pacific Americans now occupy the general counsel seats of Fortune 1000 companies (15 of them in the Fortune 500 in 2016 versus just four in 2006). Not too shabby for a group that accounts for less than 6 percent of the American population.

    But here's the rub: Though they've been swelling the junior ranks of the profession for the last 20 years or so, Asian-Americans are still rarities at the top, particularly in Big Law.

    'They go to the best law schools, the best firms, but the problem is the low conversion rate from associate to partner,' says Jean Lee, head of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. (NALP finds that Asian Pacific Americans, or APAs, represent 3.13 percent of all partners in big firms.) Compared with other ethnicities, Lee adds, 'Asians are leaving [firms] at the highest numbers.'

    In recent years, the default theory has been unconscious bias—Asians are penalized because they don't fit the popular image of a leader. 'APAs are thought to be better at technical or analytical roles,' says Victoria Reese of search firm Heidrick & Struggles. '[Some think that] if you need someone with communication or presentation skills, you look at a different slate.' And Reese notes that the image problem is even worse for Asian women: 'We are frequently asked whether an Asian woman candidate is tough enough.'"

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    Released: March 20, 2017, 8:00 am
    Keywords: NAWL News


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