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An in-house lawyer goes to prison

John Lewis Lr., senior managing compliance counsel for The Coca-Cola Co., urges pipeline changes after visiting a local prison.

It is difficult to discuss the obstacles to diversity in the legal profession (or any aspect of diversity for that matter) without considering the “pipeline.” For how will we ever be able to meaningfully change the composition of law firm corner offices and/or corporate C-suites without a robust pipeline of successful, diverse young lawyers, law students, undergraduates, high-school students and grade school students? Sadly, the problem of the pipeline is complex. Issues of class, educational access, race and public policy have direct bearing on our access to high-potential, diverse talent to lead our profession.

Recently, as part of a locally based, yearlong leadership academy, my classmates and I experienced a program ironically called “Criminal Justice” day. Before this day, I thought I had a good sense of the pipeline and its challenges. I was wrong. After a morning of heartbreaking statistics presented by speakers ranging from our local U.S. Attorney to the police chief, we visited the local jail. In the jail “tour,” I saw first-hand what is becoming of a part of our “pipeline.” It seems that, at least in my home state of Georgia, more than 90 percent of those incarcerated are black males. Most of these “criminals” are in their early 20s. Most also are 10th-grade dropouts who read at the third-grade level.

John Lewis Jr.

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