It’s time for some real talk about how terrible our profession is at ensuring diversity. We talk the talk, with BigLaw firms hiring “diversity coordinators” and law schools attempting to make efforts to recruit students of color, but we’re failing, and we’re failing hard.
[A]ccording to Bureau of Labor statistics, law is one of the least racially diverse professions in the nation. Eighty-eight percent of lawyers are white. Other careers do better — 81 percent of architects and engineers are white; 78 percent of accountants are white; and 72 percent of physicians and surgeons are white.
One of the biggest problems in addressing this is that we don’t actually think we have a problem. Look what happened when Sam Glover tried to discuss whether there was a diversity problem in solosmall firms. This is true at the BigLaw level as well, where diversity — both in terms of people of color and in terms of advancing the role of women in a profession where they are far less likely to end up at the top — seems to be framed simultaneously as incredibly important but also impossible.
I recently surveyed managing partners of the 100 largest law firms and general counsel of Fortune 100 companies. Virtually all of the 53 participants in the study said diversity was a high priority. But they attributed the under-representation of minorities to the lack of candidates in the pool. And they explained the “woman problem” by citing women’s different choices and disproportionate family responsibilities in the context of a 24/7 workplace. As one managing partner put it, “You have to be realistic. It’s a demanding profession. . . . I don’t claim we’ve figure it out.”
No, you really don’t have it figured out. It’s impossible to overstate the avalanche of statistics that show how much we suck:
- Women account for a third of the profession, but only a fifth of law firm partners and are far less likely to make partner.
- People of color constitute a fifth of the population of law school graduates, but make up less than seven percent of law partners.
- If you give law firm partners a legal memo and tell them a white man wrote it, they will rank it uniformly higher than if they are told a black man wrote it.
We can do better. We have to do better, or we cement ourselves as a profession that has no idea how to serve an increasingly diverse population and, worse still, a profession that, at root, just doesn’t care.
Featured image: “Standing out from the crowd” from Shutterstock.