Our legal profession has a diversity problem. Of the 1.3 million lawyers in the country, 85% of them are white. As our country swiftly approaches majority-minority status, we all need to ensure that the legal profession better reflects the population that we serve. Jumpstart, a pipeline program coordinated by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, plays a key role in that effort.
A significant part of the diversity challenge in the legal profession centers on the education gap. Studies demonstrate that ethnic and racial minorities have lowered educational outcomes, starting before kindergarten and continuing through higher education. Once these students enter law school, many are further disadvantaged as compared to their peers by the lack of attorneys in their family or friends. With that comes other incomplete understandings about the importance of clerkships, law review, law firms, practice areas, the bar exam, among many others.
Compounded with that are the very real concerns of implicit bias. Students from underrepresented minority groups often must overcome assumptions about what they are able to do, based on their ethnic, religious, or other identity. For example, a black student’s intelligence is second-guessed when he speaks in class; two Indian female students are consistently mistaken for the other as they sit in the lecture hall; a visually impaired student is dismissed as being unable to competently practice law. Some of these assumptions are said out loud; others are only made implicitly. Either way, the students have yet more hurdles to overcome.
And still one more hurdle. For many of these students, they are the “only” in their classrooms, or at least, one of very few: the only disabled student, the only Hispanic student, the only Muslim student. They may have no one else who they can look at – faculty or student – and think, “They understand my struggles because they have been here too.”
READ MORE Illinois Courts Connect August, 27 2018