TBD Law and Diversity

Man and woman head silhouettes with colourful gear wheels flying around

We have been a little bit critical of other conferences when it comes to diversity. So it seems fair, since we are just a few days from the start of TBD Law, to be transparent about our own efforts to attract a diverse group of innovative lawyers.

Aaron, Matt, and I are obviously three middle-aged white guys. We can’t change that, but from the beginning we wanted TBD Law to be a diverse meeting of the minds. We take it as a given that innovative lawyers come in all genders, colors, and sexual orientations, and we wanted TBD Law to reflect that diversity.

In numbers, our goal was to have an attendee profile resembling the legal profession (pdf) at least, and ideally the general population.1

Goals by Gender Lawyers Gen. Pop.
Men 64% 50%
Women 36% 50%
Goals by Race Lawyers Gen. Pop.
White 88% 72.4%
PoC 12% 27.6%

Invitations and Applications

TBD Law was an invite-only event, but we also accepted applications. We compiled the initial list of invitations from the innovative lawyers we already knew about. We hoped that by accepting invitations we would learn about lawyers we missed, especially women and people of color.

It turned out that men applied in drastically greater numbers than women (3:1), and whites applied in drastically greater numbers than people of color (9:1). We did not invite everyone who applied, but even after trying to compensate for the greater numbers of white men applying, we wound up with a final invite list that fell short of our goals.

Invitations by Gender Initial Applications Final
Men 55% 75% 64%
Women 45% 25% 36%
Invitations by Race Initial Applications Final
White 88% 93% 93%
PoC 12% 7% 7%

Caveat: Race isn’t always obvious from names and websites, so I expect I may be off by a person or two.

Scholarships

We also granted 15 scholarships because we knew some lawyers whose perspectives would be valuable at TBD Law would have trouble affording the trip.

Scholarships by Gender %
Men 47%
Women 53%
Scholarships by Race %
White 87%
PoC 13%

Registrations

The final variable was who accepted our invitations, with or without a scholarship. Here is the final attendee profile, including the hosts:

Attendees by Gender %
Men 69%
Women 31%
Attendees by Race %
White 93%
PoC 7%

Before I talk about what those numbers mean, I think it’s interesting to look at the registration rates. In other words, what percentage of those we invited ended up registering?

Registration Rates %
Men 59%
Women 46%
White 55%
PoC 50%

In other words, men were more likely to accept than women, and whites were more likely to accept than people of color.

What We Learned

We did fall short of our goals, but we learned some important things about planning for diversity in the process.

First, because women and people of color are less likely to register than white men, the unevenness of our invitations was exacerbated in the final registration numbers. In order to reach our goals next time, we will need to compensate by inviting more women and lawyers of color relative to the goal.

Second, we hoped that making applications available would introduce us to women and people of color we missed in the first round of invitations. That didn’t work. In fact it had the opposite effect. Men and whites applied in numbers that dwarfed women and people of color.

The good news is that since we now have registration rates, we can adjust our invitation percentages next time. Here are the percentages we will have to aim for in our invitation pool in order to reach our goal for the legal profession and the general population (target percentages in parentheses):

Goals by Gender Lawyers Gen. Pop.
Men 58% (64%) 44% (50%)
Women 42% (36%) 56% (50%)
Goals by Race Lawyers Gen. Pop.
White 87% (88%) 69% (72.4%)
PoC 13% (12%) 31% (27.6%)

With those numbers, hopefully we can get closer to our diversity goals at TBD Law next year.

Looking Forward to TBD Law

While I am disappointed we missed our diversity goals, I can’t be disappointed in the awesome group of innovative lawyers who are coming to TBD Law next week. And I am confident diversity will be part of our discussions about the future of small-firm practice.

Stay tuned for our TBD Law coverage!


  1. “PoC” in the following tables means people of color. For reporting purposes, the raw number of people of color was small enough that breaking it down into further categories didn’t seem helpful for statistical evaluation. 

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  • Eric Cooperstein

    I think this is an important conversation to have. FWIW, 7% POC is probably higher than most law-related conferences I attend. For next year, ABA’s Collaborative Bar Leadership Academy, an annual seminar for up-and-coming minority bar leaders, might be a good place to find innovative lawyers of color.