Portrait Project 2.0: Asian Americans in the Legal Profession

Asian Americans are a growing presence in all sectors of the legal profession. They work in BigLaw and in smaller firms and solo practice, and as government attorneys, corporate counsel, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and more. But they fall short in attaining leadership positions and have the highest attrition rates from major law firms. Research has not substantially studied the many ways in which Asian American lawyers and law students struggle and thrive, and the unique incentives and constraints that shape their career paths.

With pioneering support from National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) and Yale Law Schoolthe first phase of the 2017 Portrait Project studyresulted in a widely-circulated report that revealed that while Asian Americans have entered every facet of the legal profession, they are underrepresented in top leadership positions across all sectors.

Now, in a continuing partnership with NAPABA and with the support of a generous anchor gift from the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Areathe American Bar Foundation (ABF) has collaborated with  Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and Yale Law School to complete the next phase of this important study. Portrait Project 2.0 is a deeper exploration of the empirical reasons and potential solutions for the current challenges faced by the Asian American legal community. 

Using surveys, focus groups, and data from the ABF’s After the JD study and other existing studies, the research has focused on the following questions:

  1. What accounts for the high attrition rates of Asian Americans at law firms?
  2.  What challenges and opportunities do Asian American attorneys encounter within corporate legal departments?
  3. Why do minority law students fail to get clerkships in proportion to their numbers at top law schools?
  4. What explains the recent decline in Asian-American enrollment at U.S. law schools?

Ultimately, Portrait Project 2.0 aims to understand the factors, from self-selection to discriminatory bias, that dictate the careers of Asian American lawyers to understand why Asian Americans are not reaching the upper echelons of the profession.

Visit the Portrait Project website for further details.

Portrait Project 2.0 Donor List