Portrait Project

The Portrait Project: Understanding Asian Americans in the Law


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. 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.

In a study published by Yale Law School and NAPABA, A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law is a systematic analysis of how Asian Americans are situated in the legal profession. The study provides a descriptive account of this central finding, laying the groundwork for future exploration of causal mechanisms and potential solutions. Asian Americans have a firm foot in the door of the legal profession; the question now is how wide the door will swing open.

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 Area, the American Bar Foundation (ABF) has collaborated with Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and Yale Law School to conduct the next phase of this important study.

Who’s Going to Law School? Trends in Law School Enrollment Since the Great Recession provides a comprehensive analysis of recent U.S. law school enrollment trends. With two sets of JD enrollment data from 1999 to 2019, the study examines how the demographic composition of law students has changed since the Great Recession. enrollment data by gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality, with particular attention to Asian Americans, who too often remain an invisible minority in contemporary discourse on diversity. We also undertake a novel analysis of enrollment demographics by law school ranking.


A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law (2017)

Who’s Going to Law School? Trends in Law School Enrollment Since the Great Recession (2020)


What Underrepresented Law School Applicants Should Know (June 8, 2020) 
Is Money the Reason Asian Americans Are Rejecting Legal Careers? (June 8, 2020) | Subscription required
Justice Liu Condemns Increased Anti-Asian Bias, Says Current Events Should be a Call to Action (June 2, 2020)
Fewer Asian Americans Going to Law School, Study Finds (May 28, 2020)
NAPABA Webinar: Who’s Going to Law School? Trends in Law School Enrollment Since the Great Recession (July 23, 2020)



Organizational Statements

May 28, 2020:

New Study Explores Decline in Asian American Law Student Enrollment Statement

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

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