The Private and Public Employment of African-American Lawyers, 1960-2000

17 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2008

Date Written: July, 16 2008


Affirmative action, or concern about diversity, looms large at most law schools. In considering how affirmative action is working and how it might be improved, it is surely important not just to have reasonably diverse student bodies, but to train minority lawyers who will be employable - and employed - for their professional careers. This short essay, in the style of a research note, explores the employment of African-American attorneys ages 31-65, as reported in U.S. Census data from 1960 through 2000.

The conclusions from the data are mixed. In 1960, 2.0% of male lawyers and judges ages 36-45 were African Americans. After several decades of affirmative action, in 2000 the proportion in the same age group has grown only modestly to 2.8% of male lawyers. Since the 1980 Census (when most African-American lawyers ages 31-65 would have graduated from law school before the era of affirmative action in law school admissions), the changes for African-American men have been even less impressive in employment by private firms and companies: from 1.8% of males in 1980 to 2.1% in 2000.

African-American women have fared better, but most of these gains have roughly tracked gains for other females. Besides judgeships - in which African-Americans are much better represented than in the past, but for which the numbers are necessarily small - and the general gains for women of all colors, the other big growth area for African-American lawyers has been in self-employment.

The data are far from a ringing endorsement of affirmative action, especially for African-American men. What law schools have been doing since the 1970s has been only a moderate success in some areas, such as for African-American women. In other areas, such as for male African-Americans employed by private firms or companies, very little has been accomplished. The data do not themselves address the question of whether African-American students would benefit from having a larger "critical mass" of classmates of similar ethnicity or instead would benefit from a general national reduction in the scope of affirmative action for African-Americans and thus a corresponding reduction in the size of gap in entering qualifications compared with other classmates. Law schools should perhaps think more critically about their contributions to these seemingly intractable problems or their potential solutions.

Keywords: Law Schools, Diversity, Affirmative Action, Careers

JEL Classification: K00, K10

Suggested Citation

Lindgren, James T., The Private and Public Employment of African-American Lawyers, 1960-2000 (July, 16 2008). Journal of Contemporary Legal issues, Vol. 17, 2008, San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 08-042, Available at SSRN:

James T. Lindgren (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
773-294-9043 (Phone)

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