Law Practice Management

Law is the nation's least-diverse profession, law prof says

  • Print.

The legal profession is less diverse than other professions, yet fails to recognize a significant problem, according to Stanford University law professor Deborah Rhode.

Writing for the Washington Post, Rhode has the statistics. Eighty-eight percent of lawyers are white, compared to 81 percent of architects and engineers, 78 percent of accountants, and 72 percent of physicians and surgeons.

Blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans and Native Americans make up a fifth of law school graduates, but they make up fewer than 7 percent of law firm partners and 9 percent of general counsels of large corporations, Rhode says.

The problem extends to women, who make up more than a third of the profession but only about a fifth of law firm partners, general counsels of Fortune 500 corporations and law school deans, Rhode says. The statistics are worse for equity partners, where women make up just 17 percent of the group. Among the nation’s 100 largest firms, only seven have woman as the chair or the managing partner.

Rhode says unconscious bias is part of the problem, as is a double standard for women who risk seeming too feminine or not feminine enough. Both groups also suffer when they are left out of networking opportunities and mentoring. In addition, women who take advantage of reduced work hours are stigmatized as slackers.

Rhode says lawyers need to take personal responsibility to change the situation. “They can support workplace initiatives and expanded efforts to increase the pool of qualified minorities through scholarships and mentoring,” Rhode writes. “To make all these reforms possible, they must not be seen as ‘women’ or ‘minority’ issues, but as organizational priorities in which everyone has a stake. The challenge is to create that sense of unity and to translate rhetorical commitments into daily practices.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.