Student Support Programs Will Increase Legal Diversity

The Leadership Council for Legal Diversity focuses on helping current and future law students.

I recently joined leaders across our profession at a meeting to address diversity in the legal profession. The nation's lawyers play a vital role in protecting the rights of individuals across society. To succeed, our profession needs to reflect the diversity of the country we serve.

Yet legal diversity has been moving forward at a pace that more closely resembles a glacier than a racecar. For example, women still account for less than 20 percent and minorities only about 6 percent of the partners in the nation's large law firms.

We need to do more than just talk about diversity. We need action.

For this reason, corporate general counsels and law firm managing partners came together to found the Leadership Council for Legal Diversity, or LCLD. Representing more than 160 law firms and companies, we recently launched new and concrete steps to advance diversity in the legal profession.

One of these initiatives focuses on the legal pipeline.

It is a challenge to decide where we should focus our efforts. On one level, the pipeline challenge is vast. As a country we're failing to graduate diverse people from college at a level that is representative of the population. But obviously the issues start well before college. Nationally, only about 75 percent of young people even graduate from high school. And our problems begin when children are still toddlers, as gaps in early learning mean that many underprivileged kids, in particular, start kindergarten unprepared to learn and never catch up.

There is also a plethora of great programs that one could choose to help. These span the age spectrum, and in truth most of them are short on resources and are more than worthy of support.

Ultimately, however, if we're going to have real impact, we need to make some choices. The country spends more than $240 billion annually on public education. The collective resources of lawyers will always represent a tiny fraction of this amount. We need to identify and pursue the most strategic opportunities.

At the recent LCLD meeting, we decided to concentrate our energy on one specific goal--increasing the number of diverse college graduates moving into and through law school. There were a couple of key factors that led to this choice.

First, the need is substantial. Currently, African-Americans account for 9.8 percent of college graduates but only 6.9 percent of law school enrollment. Similarly, the Hispanic-Latino population accounts for 7.9 percent of college graduates but only 6.1 percent of law
school students.

Second, we concluded that as a profession we are well equipped to help individuals move into and through law school, having gone through this process already. And if we don't address this opportunity, who will step forward instead?

It's up to those of us in the legal profession to do more to bring more diverse people into U.S. law schools. Now we need to take real strides to move forward.

We've decided to pursue two strategies. The first is focused on diverse students still in college. We need more programs to encourage diverse students to apply to law school and to help them prepare for the LSAT and for law school itself. A number of law firms and companies already support strong activities in this area, and we need to scale up successful programs to reach more people.

Second, we need to work more with diverse students entering law school. Part of this involves preparation for their first year of law school. And part involves more internship opportunities after the first year is completed.

If we're going to succeed, we need more help. We need more lawyers, legal departments and law firms to help advance this cause. You can make a difference. To learn how, spend a few minutes at www.lcldnet.org.

Contributing Author

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Brad Smith

Brad Smith has nearly 20 years of leadership experience in the web consumer, enterprise software and communication service provider industries, spanning sales and marketing, product...

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