Increasing diversity has become well established as a central goal of the legal profession, but there's no question that much work remains. Bolstered by an industrywide commitment to increasing the number of minorities and women in the legal field, diversity in law firms has increased in tiny but measurable increments, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), which tracks law firm demographics. Last year, however, progress came to a halt, driven by widespread layoffs in the associate ranks, which often contain the most diverse lawyers.
A newer trend within the legal diversity realm, gaining momentum over the past five to 10 years, are so-called pipeline efforts that address diversity by reaching out to minority and low-income students throughout their educations. The idea is that by working with kids in their communities, lawyers are also investing in the profession with the hope that some of the young people will go on to law school and become lawyers where previously that might have been a distant goal--if it appeared on their radar screens at all.
CLASSROOM CITIZENS: Accenture
The law department at Chicago-based Accenture launched its Legal Corporate Citizenship initiative in 2004 to nurture pro bono and community volunteer work.
COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY: Merck and Co. Inc.
Founded in 1972, Street Law provides training, curricula and program development aid to corporate law departments and law firms launching pipeline initiatives. Throughout the years, the non-profit has worked with the Association of Corporate Counsel to collaborate on corporate legal diversity pipeline efforts with companies including The Coca-Cola Co. (see "Refreshing Communities," p. 91), DuPont, Marriott International, Allstate, Wal-Mart, IBM and McDonald's.
PIPELINE PARTNERSHIPS: General Mills
In the legal department at General Mills, the commitment to diversity clearly starts from the top--GC Rick Palmore authored "A Call to Action" in 2004, urging general counsel to demand diversity from their law firms and partner with law firm leaders to drive diversity efforts.
THE GREAT DEBATERS: The National Association for Urban Debate
Linda Listrom, executive director of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) since September 2010, knows firsthand how important and influential competitive debate can be for students from underrepresented groups.
Q&A: Brad Smith
The Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) was formed by in-house and law firm leaders to continue the work of the Call to Action initiative, which in 2004 urged corporate counsel and law firms to work together on driving diversity in the profession.
Q&A: James O'Neal
James O'Neal is co-founder and executive director of Legal Outreach, a program aimed at working with at-risk teens to prepare them for college and law school. The organization started out working with high-school students and has since expanded to middle school and college students.
Q&A: Leonard Baynes
The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John's University School of Law in Queens, N.Y., focuses on outreach programs for underrepresented minorities along with pipeline programs for college and law students. The Center's Summer Prep Program for College Students, which started in 2005, works with undergrads in intensive eight- to nine-week-long sessions that include law school application guidance, LSAT preparation and internships with law firms, law departments and judges. Leonard Baynes is inaugural executive director of the Center.