Act to Improve Diversity in the Legal Profession

act to improve diversityAfter being part of a law school diversity program this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about actions to improve the state of diversity in the legal profession. Even with an increase in diversity and inclusion efforts, the racial makeup of the legal profession hasn’t budged much in the past decade. The discrepancy between the diversity of the legal profession and the general population speaks for itself.

According to the 2019 ABA Profile of the Legal Profession, 5% of all lawyers are African American — the same number as 10 years earlier. However, the U.S. population is 13.4% African American. Similarly, 5% of all lawyers are Hispanic. This number hasn’t increased over the past decade either. In turn, the U.S. population is 18.1% Hispanic. And 2% of all lawyers are Asian – no change from 10 years earlier – while the U.S. population is 5.8% Asian.

This is no small problem. Like many other big issues in the world today, there is no clear path forward. So, is there anything that can be done? How can I act to improve diversity in the profession? And will it matter?

The Certain Something I Can Do

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of this challenge like I can tend to do, I decided to do the certain something I can do. That certain something was assisting the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism with the coordination of the 2019 JumpStart orientation.

JumpStart is the brainchild of Judge Ann Claire Williams (Ret.). The program helps prepare underrepresented minority law students in Illinois for their first year of law school. Jumpstart also introduces students to the best practices needed to become successful and professional lawyers.

Over the three-day orientation, I witnessed 63 overwhelmed students receive valuable tools and develop skills that would help even the playing field in law school and beyond. Most JumpStart students are the first in their family — and even the first person they know — to go to law school. On the other hand, many of their law school classmates have already been introduced to the ins and outs of law school and professional situations through family, friends and community members.

During orientation, JumpStart students learned legal writing and briefing skills, and participated in programming with federal judges and big law firms. By day three of the program, I saw the students’ stress decrease and confidence grow in knowing that they belong and are more prepared to succeed in law school. Importantly, these students now have a community; a support system and team of mentors who will be with them along the way.

Inaction Moves Nothing Forward

While JumpStart is a brilliant program and our work this year was valuable, I recognize that this alone won’t solve the legal profession’s dismal diversity numbers. The industry as a whole needs to act to improve diversity. Individually, however, we can set change in motion. I saw this firsthand in the work of Judge Williams and all who stepped up to assist with JumpStart.

There’s no doubt that improving diversity in the legal profession is a big issue to tackle. But as Amelia Earhart said, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”

People are acting. There are programs like JumpStart across the country that are fostering diversity and inclusion in law, beginning in law school. A small sampling of such programs includes:

Have you thought about how to act to improve diversity in the legal profession? Each small action can inspire others to act and brings us closer to meaningful change. Please share in the comments below.

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Stephanie Villinski
Stephanie has dedicated her career to social justice and worked in public interest law for the past 15+ years. As Deputy Director, Stephanie is responsible for streamlining the day-to-day operations of the Commission in addition to supporting its education, law school, and mentoring programs. With a particular interest in wellness, Stephanie seeks to promote a healthier, more rewarding professional life for lawyers and by extension, better service to their clients. In her free time, Stephanie enjoys yoga, meditation, watching sports, and time outdoors.
Stephanie Villinski
Stephanie Villinski

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Stephanie Villinski
Stephanie has dedicated her career to social justice and worked in public interest law for the past 15+ years. As Deputy Director, Stephanie is responsible for streamlining the day-to-day operations of the Commission in addition to supporting its education, law school, and mentoring programs. With a particular interest in wellness, Stephanie seeks to promote a healthier, more rewarding professional life for lawyers and by extension, better service to their clients. In her free time, Stephanie enjoys yoga, meditation, watching sports, and time outdoors.
Stephanie Villinski
Stephanie Villinski

4 thoughts on “Act to Improve Diversity in the Legal Profession

  1. Colleges and universities and professional have pursued diversity for decades. Affirmative action is not a new concept nor practice and generally been a positive experience if I understand it correctly.
    Law schools are no longer bastions of white males and many law schools males, and particularly white males are in the minority. Women now make up 50 t0 60% of law school enrollment. Largely because it seems to be the thing to do and available. Why haven’t persons of color, male and female, responded in like fashion? Does it have something to do with a cultural under valuing of education? The Asian student is probably more likely to be interested in the sciences and make up a disproportionate segment of graduate STEM students. A big round of applause should go out to the Asian student.
    The topic of diversity is fraught with issues and frictions and is a very complex topic. Incidentally,I have commented before in response to the Civility Commission and have received absolutely no feed back. Wonder why?

    1. Thank you Mr. Coplan. We appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on our content. It’s important that all attorneys come to the table and share their point of view on the professionalism challenges facing the profession.

      You’re right! The number of women enrolled in law school has outpaced the number of men for the past several years. Here’s a breakdown: https://www.enjuris.com/students/law-school-female-enrollment-2018.html.

      Separately, we’d like to share an ABA brief that lays out its view of diversity in the profession: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/abanews/1344962627fisher_v_texas_amicus.authcheckdam.pdf.

      Thank you again for following the Commission.

  2. Hi, Ms. Villinski,

    A number of us in or around the legal profession applaud efforts to encourage students to consider law school as a viable and profitable choice of professions. With the numerous changes to law and law practice, however, I suspect it is more profitable to look at becoming a legal technologist or other similar professional affiliate of the law.

    I currently work in the field of Alternate or Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR) and am employed by the ABA as the Director of the Section of ADR. The ABA recently passed a Resolution encouraging the hiring of diverse dispute neutrals. Many older and newer attorneys are refocusing their practices away from litigation and rights based resolutions and turning, as you can see from the surge of online alternate platform providers, to ADR, ODR and conflict resolution system designs. In an online world, system design away from the current model of conflict resolution is an exciting option for those interested in the law and process.

    That being said, being steeped in the concepts and precepts of the law is also key in the development and launch of appropriate systems so I wonder if there were more of an emphasis on the intersection of law and technology and system design, more non white males might be tempted to consider a law related career.

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