Law Schools Aim to Increase Diversity

Dec 20, 2016 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes
Lack of diversity in the legal sector is a pervasive problem. According to a recent Financial Times article, however, reversing this trend is seen as a critical priority at many law schools. Let’s take a closer look at the issue, along with highlighting prescribed measures for increasing diversity in the legal sector. Understanding the Problem According to recent research from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), African American lawyers account for a mere four percent of associates and an even more negligible 1.4 percent of partners at New York City law firms. Total minorities at the nation’s law schools, meanwhile, account for just 22 percent of associates, 20 percent of staff attorneys, and 7.5 percent of partners. And while the good news is that these numbers have been steadily on the rise since 2011, the majority of stakeholders agree that additional diversity-enhancing measures are necessary. Supporting a Solution Already, many law schools offer scholarship schemes, diversity programs, and social mobility initiatives designed to attract more minorities to law school. But keeping minorities in law school once enrolled presents an entirely different problem, according to insiders. For starters, many minority students have to work while in law school and/or spend more time commuting to and from school. This can cut into their study time and cause them to fall behind their peers. Furthermore, they may also lack essential soft skills necessary for law school success. As UK-based Black Solicitors Network Cordella Bart-Stewart told FT, “It’s the practical things that help retention and progression, which is a big problem for minorities, like mentoring, peer-to-peer support and improving social skills.” Experts are also calling for universities and law firms to collaborate toward greater diversity. According to Baker & McKenzie Inclusion and Diversity Partner Sarah Gregory, “What’s important for the sector is relying on the universities to change the dynamic but also reaching out and doing other things to speed up the process of change.” The overall takeaway? Funding helps, but it will take more than mere money to bridge the divide.  
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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