June 2009Volume 3Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

The 2008 ISBA Diversity Survey


Last spring more than 2,500 ISBA members participated in a survey conducted by the ISBA’s Task Force on Diversity. The Task Force undertook the survey to gauge members’ levels of satisfaction with various aspects of both their own legal careers and the environment in which they practice.

The survey was conducted on an open basis over the Internet, and so was not “scientific” in the sense of having a strictly controlled sample. Nevertheless, because of the large number of responses, the results do provide useful insight into the current opinions of the Illinois legal community regarding the issues covered therein.

Following the survey’s completion I performed an initial review of the results and provided a summary report to the Task Force. Since then I have examined the results in more depth, particularly in terms of demographic subgroups. The following is a summary of the survey results and the main findings from my analysis.

Survey and Response Overview

The core of the survey asked respondents to rate their satisfaction levels with the following aspects of their careers and practice environment:

—Quality of legal work

—Amount of client contact

—Collegiality of workplace culture

—Practice of law

—Diversity of office

—Sensitivity in Workplace

—Diversity of legal profession in county

—Diversity of legal profession in state

Ratings were given on a five-point scale, with a score of 5 for “extremely sat- isfied” and 1 for “not satisfied.” (Two addi- tional questions were included, but their response patterns were nearly identical to those of questions in the above group. So they are excluded here).

After receiving the data set I removed responses that were incomplete or unanalyzable. I also removed 105 responses from law students, so that the analysis would be performed on practicing attorneys only. The remaining data set contains a total of 2,596 completed responses. 

Table 1 reports the response percentages and mean scores for the eight core questions. For the most part the figures are self-explanatory. Average scores on six of the eight questions exceeded the 3.00 “satisfied” level and in some cases were considerably higher, with only small percentages of respondents indicating partial or complete dissatisfaction. These scores are not surprising considering that the respondents not only are practicing attorneys, but possess the level of commitment to their profession to have joined a major bar association.

Not all of the scores were high, though. The county-diversity and state- diversity scores averaged below the 3.00 level, with more than one-third of respondents expressing partial or complete dissatisfaction. Interestingly, respondents gave significantly higher scores to the diversity levels in their own offices than to those of their counties or the state. This pattern held true for respondents in all parts of Illinois. It suggests at least the possibility of a degree of misperception—specifically, either that diversity levels in the larger community are slightly better than respondents perceive them to be, or else that respondents evaluated their own workplaces too leniently.

Demographic categories and subgroups

In addition to the core questions, the survey also included a group of demographic questions. Based on the responses to these questions I was able to define seven useful demographic categories and to subdivide the survey responses into suitable subgroups within each category. Table 2 reports the numbers and percentages of respondents in these categories and subgroups.

Are the percentages representative of the Illinois legal community? Given the open-participation format of the survey, this is an important question because of the potential for a disproportionate response from some subgroups. Based on available information, the survey’s respondents were comparatively young- er and included a somewhat larger pro- portion of females. However, these dif- ferences were not large enough to cause any significant distortions in the overall summary scores.

Differences in Scoring Among Demographic Subgroups

For each subgroup I calculated a set of average scores on the eight core questions. In examining these score sets, meaningful information emerged from all seven categories.

— Males and females gave similar answers to the first four questions, those dealing with general character- istics of practice. On the four diversity/ sensitivity questions, though, females gave significantly lower scores, averaging a half-point below those of males.

—A similar pattern was present based on location; lawyers throughout the state gave similar responses to the four general-practice questions, but on the diversity/sensitivity questions there were consistent differences. Chicago lawyers were the least satis- fied, followed in increasing order by lawyers in the “medium” counties and lawyers in the Chicago suburbs, with the “small” county group the most satisfied.

—The income category showed the opposite pattern. Diversity/sensitivity ratings were consistent throughout income subgroups, but on the general practice questions there were substantial differences. Higher incomes were strongly connected with higher levels of satisfaction, particularly in the areas of quality of legal work and client contact (the scores of the highest group were nearly one full point above those of the lowest).

—Older lawyers gave consistently higher scores on all eight questions than did younger lawyers. This pattern was not as substantial on the general- practice questions, but scores on the diversity/sensitivity questions averaged roughly a half-point higher for lawyers in practice for more than 30 years than for those in practice for 10 years or less.

—The largest differences in any category were based on ethnicity. Minority and non-minority scores on the general- practice questions were not substan- tively different, but minority scores on the diversity/sensitivity questions were well below non-minority scores. Among minority groups, the African- American group gave the lowest scores on all four questions, averaging as low as 1.71 and 1.85 for the diversity-of-county and diversity-of-state questions, respectively.

—The smallest differences were in the sexual orientation category. Average scores in the lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgender subgroup were nearly all within one- or two-tenths of those of the straight subgroup.

—Finally, an interesting pattern emerged in terms of size of practice. On the general-practice questions there were small but definite increases in scores as firm size increased. But on the diversity/sensitivity questions, larger firms were associated with lower scores.

Some of these results, of course, are intertwined. For instance, two-thirds of the minority responses came from Chicago. While minority scores on the diversity/sensitivity questions were low throughout the state, the concentration of minority respondents in Chicago was the factor responsible for the low overall diversity/sensitivity scores in the Chicago subgroup.


These findings not only provide a revealing snapshot of ISBA member opinion but also will be of value in the future. This is because the Task Force intends for this survey’s results to be used as a baseline against which future survey results will be compared. I have suggested refinements in the survey questions and procedures that will build on this initial survey and enhance its clarity and usefulness. Hopefully the survey will prove to be a productive and worthwhile tool in furthering the ISBA’s diversity goals, both today and over the long term.


1. Albert J. Klumpp is a research analyst in the Chicago office of McDermott Will & Emery LLP. He holds a PhD in public policy analysis, and serves as statistical advisor to the ISBA’s Judicial Advisory Polls Committee. He can be contacted at aklumpp@mwe.com.

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