Experiencing discrimination: Race and retention in america's largest law firms

Monique R. Payne-Pikus*, John Hagan, Robert L. Nelson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Although the number of racial and ethnic minority lawyers in the legal profession has greatly increased, concern remains about their low percentage among partners in elite law firms. Using a nationally representative sample of young American lawyers, we compare a human capital-based theory, which emphasizes measures of merit, and an institutional discrimination-based theory, which focuses on differences in partner contact and mentoring. The results indicate that institutional discrimination theory is the better way of understanding racial and ethnic differences in lawyer retention. Future affirmative action programs need to focus not just on access but also the processes within large firms if minority presence is to be increased.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)553-584
Number of pages32
JournalLaw and Society Review
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Sep 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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