TBD Law and Diversity, TBD3 Update

From the start, our goal for TBD Law has been to assemble the most diverse and inclusive conference and community in law. We take it as a given that innovative and entrepreneurial lawyers come in all kinds of genders, colors, abilities, and sexual orientations, so TBD Law should reflect that diversity.

Unfortunately, the legal profession falls far short of the U.S. population on key demographics. While 28% of Americans are people of color, only 12% of lawyers are. While 50% of Americans are women, only 36% of lawyers are. That means we have to do better than the legal profession, because TBDers are the small-firm lawyers shaping the future of law practice. Our goal is to beat the legal profession’s diversity numbers.

But simply saying we care about diversity isn’t enough, and we are putting our data where our mouths are. Before each meeting of TBD Law, we have reported the results of our diversity and inclusion efforts. The third meeting of TBD Law kicks off tomorrow in St. Louis, and here is a snapshot of who will be there:

(You are welcome to share these images as long as you link back to this post.)

As you can see, on our first try we fell short of our goals. As Reg Davis of the ABA Journal pointed out in his article about the first TBD Law meeting (TBD1), there were “few women and people of color there.”

But we learned a lot and we worked hard to improve for TBD2. We tried to adjust for the application and acceptance biases we noted after TBD1, and we reached out to TBD Law alumni for help identifying ways we might be unconsciously discouraging women and people of color from attending. We learned a lot, made some changes, and the results speak for themselves.

For TBD3, we switched to an open application process and saw the number of women lawyer applicants jump. We had no trouble hitting our goal for women attendees again. We also hit our goal for lawyers of color again, but we have a lot of room to improve. Before we open applications for the next meeting of TBD Law, we will be taking a careful look at how we can do that.

We know there is much more to working on diversity and inclusion than hitting numbers. And we realize these aren’t the only numbers that matter. As Heather Hackman pointed out on a podcast, if all you focus on is “doing diversity” by the numbers, it may backfire.

But we aren’t just focused on numbers; we are focused on the future of the legal profession, which is not going to be 88% white and 64% men for much longer. And the TBD Law community is going to lead the way in shaping the future of the legal profession. At any other conference, TBDers would be giving the keynotes or speaking on panels (and many of them do). At TBD Law there are no speakers. Attendees lead every discussion, just as they will lead the legal profession of the future. That’s why representation matters.

I’m proud of the work we have done on diversity and inclusion so far, and I look forward to continuing to work hard to make the TBD Law the most diverse and inclusive conference and community in law.

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