The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin recently published an article on February 11, 2010 which focused on the diversity pipeline as an avenue of increasing diversity in the legal profession. Highlighting the well-known fact that there are still disproportionately fewer minorities in the law, the lack of the pipeline is cited as a contributory factor. In my opinion, in order to effectively increase diversity, the pipeline should begin in grade school and continue through employment in the legal profession. Although certain life challenges are seen as barriers to entry into the legal profession for people of color, unfortunately, this trend will continue as long as there is an educational disparity in economically disadvantaged areas. Rory Dean Smith of The John Marshall Law School points out that if the legal profession is not a representation of society, then it loses the trust of the people.
The pipeline project must emphasize the need for more primary and secondary programs which highlight the legal field in a positive way. One way to increase that visibility is by holding mock trials and debates in elementary and high schools to spur the interest of students. Offering programs like Street Law in schools teaches practical law to students. Law schools which partner with undergraduate institutions should be applauded for providing additional resources to students. For example, Chicago Kent has a Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) summer program which is meant to encourage individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend law school.
The Law School Admission Test can be a barrier to minority students. Some who are focused on outreach and planning like Rory Dean Smith recommend more emphasis on college GPA as a way to evaluate students for entry into law school. Notably, law schools are switching to merit based financial aid over need based financial aid. Obviously, this affects students who have not had the best opportunities earlier in life. Minority students who have worked diligently to improve their financial and economic situation may not have an academic transcript reflective of the type of “merit” law schools claim to look for on an application. Those talents and abilities that some minority students can contribute to the enhancement of the legal profession will not have the opportunity to be cultivated because the student is either denied admission to the law school, denied an adequate amount of financial aid or both.
The American Bar Association’s recently released report on diversity, while short on numeric data, highlights that law is less diverse than most other professions and that diversity in law is undergoing an increasingly slowing progress. The ABA report also comments on an idea of diversity fatigue. According to the report, diversity fatigue occurs as inclusion grows far beyond just race and gender into other categories of individuals, and this is causing people resistant to embracing diversity to be less focused on diversity because of the overwhelming push to become diverse.
Diversity has been seen as being less profitable at law firms. David N. Yellen, dean of Loyola University Chicago School of Law is quoted in the article as saying that it is easier to be diverse during good economic times for law firms, but in hard times, it is hard to convince firms to hire lawyers with the same tools as their counterparts if their academic credentials do not match their peers. In this process, focus is continually being taken away from skills and characteristics not measured by academics. It may be hard for a law firm based on generating profit to justify seeking young, diverse talent and help that talent succeed. Nevertheless, I contend that those law firms which do not make the genuine commitment to mentor those attorneys, loose out by never harvesting the talents and abilities which can ultimately enhance the firm’s profits. ■