The lack of diversity in the legal profession is a reflection of the larger socioeconomic disparities that exist in the United States. The legal community is exclusive by nature, considering that one must graduate from an ABA-accredited law school, pass the required bar examination, and be licensed by a bar association to even launch a legal career. Ethnic groups who traditionally lack financial, educational, and social capital already begin at a disadvantage in trying to meet these requirements, let alone practice and ascend to the bench. Therefore, any effort to increase diversity in the legal profession must begin in high school and continue all the way through legal practice. Through a comprehensive approach to training, mentoring, and financing the careers of aspiring minority attorneys, the disparate statistics in legal education and practice can be greatly improved.
The effort to increase diversity must begin with focused outreach at the different levels of education. Across the nation’s inner-cities and poorer urban centers, where there tends to be a high concentration of African Americans and Latinos, there is a trend in high school education to move from traditional public schools to smaller charter schools and magnet school programs. It is important that the ABA lobby state and local educational authorities to develop curriculum and programs with a legal and criminal justice focus at these newer schools emerging in America’s cities. The exposure to activities including debate, mock trial, and research and writing could encourage minority students to pursue legal education at the collegiate level. At the undergraduate level, it is important for organizations such as the Council for Legal Educational Opportunity, National Bar Association, and Hispanic National Bar Association to offer guidance to minority students as they consider law school as a post-graduate option. What students choose to major in, the classes they select, their LSAT preparation, and their work experience will weigh heavily on their candidacy for law school admission. Therefore, it is important that these students are engaged in their first year so that they can build the necessary profile for law school admission. In law school, it is important for these same organizations to provide appropriate support for the matriculation and professional development of minority students. Support could include writing and outlining clinics, career workshops with local minority bar associations, and supplemental bar exam preparation. Through this comprehensive approach, there will be support at every level to guide aspiring students successfully from high school to legal practice.
The next step in promoting diversity within the legal profession focuses on licensed practitioners and their careers. According to the ABA’s 2004 statistics,1 the majority of practicing attorneys in the nation work either as solo practitioners or in small law firms. Therefore, it is imperative for minority bar associations to institute special educational programs designed to guide minority practitioners in creating and managing their own law offices. Special emphasis should be placed on how to (1) secure start-up capital, (2) develop clientele, and (3) use proper billing and accounting methods. Also, it would be greatly beneficial for both minority and non-minority bar associations to use mentoring programs that match newly licensed minority attorneys with veteran attorneys and bar members for a four-year time period. The chance to gain both professional and personal advice from a seasoned colleague would be vital for any budding minority attorney. Finally, it is important for minority bar associations to implement their own educational workshops for new attorneys with judicial aspirations. With an established panel of attorneys who either serve as jurists or serve on judicial committees, the aspiring attorneys could be offered programs to improve legal writing, receive instruction on how to apply for clerkships, and learn how to bolster their own judicial candidacy. Depending on the state, judges are either appointed by the governor or elected by citizens. Either process requires instruction, preparation, and guidance from attorneys who have professional experience in the area. A similar program could focus solely on the federal judiciary and its unique requirements and provisions.
A more diverse and multicultural legal community will better reflect an increasingly diverse country and provide for better administration of justice. The legal system addresses the needs and issues facing the general population, and so it follows that each and every socioeconomic and cultural group should have access to contribute within the profession. With a coordinated effort from practitioners, bar associations, academia, and the judiciary, the disparate statistics within the legal community can be appropriately addressed in a way that enriches the advancement of the profession for all races and ethnicities.
1. AMERICAN BAR FOUNDATION, THE LAWYER STATISTICAL REPORT (1984, 1994, 2004 editions); http://new.abanet.org/marketresearch/PublicDocuments/Lawyer_Demographics.pdf.