Posted Feb 22, 2006 06:51 am CST
America’s ever-increasing diversity demands that the legal profession reflect the society it serves.
Approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population is composed of racial or ethnic minorities, but only 10 percent of our attorney population is. People with disabilities are even more underrepresented in our profession. And while half of all law students are women, senior positions in private and public law offices are still male-dominated, and income disparities persist.
Simply put, our profession can, and must, do better. A more diverse and more representative legal profession not only fosters greater public trust and confidence in the law, but even more fundamentally, it helps ensure fairness in our justice system. The new ABA Diversity Center, whose board of directors is chaired by past ABA president Dennis W. Archer, is leading the way to a more inclusive profession. The center coordinates all ABA diversity efforts and administers the successful Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund, created by past ABA president William Paul. The fund has helped more than 120 students of color attend law school. I commend all ABA entities and members who have given generously to support the scholarship program. With your and your office’s financial support, this proven program can make an even greater difference.
We also must encourage young people of color at earlier ages to pursue a legal education: By doing so, we will create a more diverse pipeline of talent. This goal was the focus of a splendid November 2005 conference in Houston, called Embracing the Opportunities for Increasing Diversity Into the Legal Profession: Collaborating to Expand the Pipeline. It was co-sponsored by the ABA and the Law School Admission Council and planned for more than a year. This May will see the first-ever ABA National Conference on the Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities.
The pipeline conference is the beginning of a new, broad-based collaborative effort among lawyers, corporate counsel, judges, law schools, educational institutions and leaders, and others to help enhance diversity in the legal profession. The business, science and engineering communities, to name several, are diversifying their ranks by working with educators to reach younger students. The legal profession can draw upon existing models to expand its pipeline of talented students.
Lawyers wanting to volunteer time to pipeline projects need not start from scratch. Bar associations across the country are developing partnerships with public schools to place lawyers in mentoring and educational roles. I encourage all lawyers to go into grade-, middle- or high-school classrooms to discuss our legal system and the importance of lawyers in our society.
The new ABA/LSAC online Pipeline Diversity Directory features hundreds of model programs to assist lawyers in reaching out to young people. Search the database for ideas or submit your program for inclusion.
The LSAC and member law schools offer grants for diversity outreach and recruitment, particularly in February, which is National Minority Law Student Recruitment Month. Law schools are encouraged to collaborate with bar associations and other groups in the profession to conduct diversity initiatives. Contact a local law school admissions office to volunteer, or go to www.lsac.org to learn of participating law schools.
ABA leadership is committed to enhancing diversity and promoting equal opportunities, particularly in education, so that all young people, regardless of their social or economic backgrounds, can develop their talents and contribute to our profession and nation. My commitment to a more diverse ABA and legal profession has guided my appointments to ABA committees and other entities. I encourage lawyers of color, women lawyers and lawyers with disabilities to apply for presidential appointments to ABA committees and be active in our sections, divisions and forums.
By demonstrating the importance of and commitment to diversity, the ABA will help achieve the full and equal participation of all in our great profession and society. And we will all benefit.