Asian Americans are not new to the legal profession. But as we were reminded in 2015 when the California Supreme Court granted posthumous bar membership to a Chinese applicant denied admission in 1890, Asian Americans long faced exclusion from the legal profession, which rendered them subjects of the law but not its architects or practitioners. Today, Asian Americans make up a significant number in law schools and the legal profession writ large. Within the span of a generation, Asian Americans have become a visible presence in all sectors of the legal profession. They work as big firm lawyers, small firm or solo practitioners, government attorneys, corporate counsel, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and more. The participation of Asian Americans in the legal profession has reached levels unthinkable just 30 years ago.
A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law (Portrait Project) canvassed Asian American attorneys for insights into law school enrollment, career advancement, and political participation. Project researchers have assembled a comprehensive portrait documenting the rise of Asian Americans in the law, their distribution across practice settings, and the challenges they face in advancing to the top ranks of the profession.
Findings show that Asian Americans have penetrated virtually every sector of the legal profession, but they are significantly underrepresented in the leadership ranks of law firms, government, and academia.