More needs to be done to increase the number of Latino lawyers in the United States. There is a relatively low percentage of attorneys in the United States who are of Latino origin. They now make up less than 4 percent of all U.S. lawyers.
However, there are some efforts to improve Latino representation among attorneys. For instance, next week, the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) and Microsoft will host the second Intellectual Property Law Institute (IPLI). It is a weeklong immersion program to explore IP law opportunities for 25 Latino law school students. The number of Latino Americans practicing Intellectual Property is even less than 4 percent of the total.
Overall, the percentage of Hispanic/Latino lawyers promoted to partner increased from 3.03 percent in 2007 to 4.04 percent in 2012, and they represented 3.16 percent of all attorneys, according to a report last year from the Vault.
“We have to change this statistic by exposing Hispanic law students to careers in IP law and by encouraging them to explore available opportunities," Miguel Alexander Pozo, HNBA’s president, said in a recent statement. “By entering into strategic partnerships with leading corporations like Microsoft, the HNBA is making significant strides to ensure that all practice areas within the legal profession are inclusive and diverse.”
The IPLI is being held in Washington D.C., with the assistance of 12 national law firms. They include Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Covington & Burling, Davis Wright Tremaine, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, Fish & Richardson, Lowenstein Sandler LLP, Merchant & Gould, Morrison & Foerster, Perkins Coie, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, Shook Hardy & Bacon, and Sidley Austin.
The students will be given exposure to such fields as patents, copyrights, trade secrets and trademarks, as well as meet with Congressional staff working on IP law and meet with IP practitioners at law firms.
“Hispanic attorneys are severely under-represented in the field of IP law, and Microsoft is committed to changing those statistics,” Horacio Gutierrez, a corporate vice president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft, said in a recent statement. “We are proud to support the IPLI as we, and the legal industry, work to build a legal profession as diverse as the country we serve.”
Among those who have attended the IPLI is Kassandra Maldonado, who was a student at the first IPLI held last year.
“The HNBA/Microsoft Intellectual Property Law Institute helped me to envision a career in the practice of patent litigation when I felt constrained both by my lack of a technical degree and the current underrepresentation of Latinos in the field,” Maldonado said in a statement. “The IPLI opened the door to the breadth, richness, and opportunities that exist in IP litigation. I now have the confidence I need to confidently pursue my interest in IP Law. In fact, as a result of IPLI, I will be joining Covington & Burling’s 2014 summer associate program and will spend some time working in their patent litigation group.”
There are many reasons that it is important to get more Latino attorneys in the United States. It is an admirable goal in and of itself. Also, InsideCounsel reported this year that Hispanic businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas are not getting proper legal representation because the area's firms do not employ an adequate number of Spanish-speaking lawyers.
In addition, looking at the overall need to increase diversity among America’s lawyers, Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft, stated in a blog post that, “While America increasingly reflects the extraordinarily diverse people and cultures from around the world, the legal profession does not.”
“Many lawyers are aware we have not kept pace with the nation,” he added. “What is troubling is the lack of clarity about why this is happening. And until we know why, we are just guessing at the best ways to help build a more diverse legal profession.”
He adds that when considering diversity in the legal profession, it is worthwhile to look at three other professions with education or licensing requirements: physicians and surgeons, financial managers and accountants/auditors.
“Although the percentage of under-represented minorities (specifically African American and Hispanic/Latino) in each of these professions lags behind the national workforce, the gap between the legal profession and these other professions has actually worsened over the past nine years,” he added.
Some law firms, in-house legal departments and others are increasing development, mentoring and growth opportunities for under-represented minorities. But there is more that needs to be done.
A national study of bar passage rates (LSAC, 1998) showed that more than 20 percent of African Americans and more than 10 percent of Hispanic/Latino law students never passed the bar, compared to less than 5 percent of white law students.
“If African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos passed the bar at the same rate as whites (96.7 percent), this would have the same impact as increasing the number of African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos in law school by 18 percent,” Smith said.
He points out that it is very difficult to pass a bar exam without taking a bar preparation course, which may cost about $5,000. It is also difficult to pass a bar exam without studying full-time for the couple of months preceding the test. These may be challenging for minority students.