It is widely acknowledged that diversity is necessary for a thriving legal profession. Despite this, meaningful legal diversity remains a largely unfilled aspiration.
The legal profession doesn’t reflect our increasingly diverse society.
Across major population demographics, the legal profession fails to echo the diversity that exists in our democracy. Take, for example, racial and ethnic diversity. Racial and ethnic minorities make up 30% of the U.S. population, but less than 10% of practicing attorneys.
Over the next few decades, we’ll become even more diverse. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the White, non-Hispanic population will steadily fall to 64% in 2020, and 53% in 2050. 1
The infographic below provides further comparisons of the legal profession to the society it serves.
We are losing diverse students.
Though legal diversity has become a familiar buzzword, the legal profession is losing ground in its battle for diversity. Law schools added 3,000 seats from 1992-2008. Yet, returning to our racial diversity example, none of the additional seats went to Black students. 2 In addition, Black applicants were shut out of law school – denied admission to every law school to which they applied – at a rate almost double that of White applicants. 3
Source: A Disturbing Trend in Law School Diversity, Columbia/SALT Study
The result? Declining law school enrollment for Blacks in both real and proportional terms.
Further along the legal diversity pipeline, the data paints an equally disturbing picture. Black law students are 2.5 times more likely to not graduate and 4 times more likely to not pass the bar on their first attempt than their white counterparts. 4
Even those students who get past these hurdles and join law firms do not escape unaffected. More than half of minority associates bid their law firms farewell within three years and two-thirds do the same within four years compared to an overall attrition rate of 43% and 56%, respectively. 5
From pre-law to law school, from law school to practice – we lose diversity through each transition.
We will not achieve enduring diversity until we support students through key transitions in the legal diversity pipeline.
Organizations are doing incredible work at either end of the legal diversity pipeline. Most focus on secondary school students or, alternatively, on helping students secure positions with prestigious law firms. Yet these efforts, supported by law firms and the corporate community, have yielded only modest gains. Enduring diversity continues to elude us because diversity recruitment is emphasized over retention and support.
Most law schools aren’t equipped to offer academic or career support to students who have difficulty making the transition. Legal diversity initiatives outside of law school tend to focus on the few students that do excel. Ultimately, most diverse law students end up relying on one another. While peer support is critical, students also need experienced mentorship and informed guidance to thrive.
A similar scenario unfolds at law firms. Once recruited, diverse attorneys perceive that they’ll have a harder time gaining technical skills, finding mentors, getting quality assignments, and navigating firm culture. 6
Getting diverse students and attorneys in the door is not enough. In order to achieve meaningful, lasting progress, we must also help them make the transition.
What Blueprint JD is doing.
Blueprint JD is a new legal diversity nonprofit focused on these transitions. We believe the students themselves – where they go, remain and thrive – are the key to diversity. So, we’re reaching out directly to diverse law students to help them make informed choices and successful transitions. Learn more about Blueprint JD’s mission and initiatives >
- Current Population Reports, Population Projections of the United States by Age Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 1995-2050, U.S. Census Bureau available at http://www.census.gov/prod/1/pop/p25-1130.pdf. ↩
- A Disturbing Trend in Law School Diversity, SALT/Columbia Study available at http://blogs.law.columbia.edu/salt. ↩
- Id. ↩
- Affirmative Action in American Law Schools Briefing Report, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, April 2007, available at http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/AALSreport.pdf. ↩
- Tiffany N. Darden, The Law Firm Caste System: Constructing a Bridge Between Workplace Equity Theory & the Institutional Analyses of Bias in Corporate Law Firm, 30 Berkeley J. Emp. & Lab. L. 85 (2009). ↩
- Id. ↩