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Bench & Bar
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Bench & Bar Section

August 2017, vol. 48, no. 2

Looking ahead: A reflection on the emerging diversity in the law profession

As Judge Debra B. Walker’s summer extern, I had the opportunity to attend the “The Future Is Now: Legal Services 2.017” conference, hosted by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, on Thursday, May 18th. After, I came away with a better understanding of the legal profession and the challenges it currently faces.

Dennis Garcia’s presentation, titled “Diversity is the Future of the Legal Workplace,” brought to light that the future of the legal profession not only involves progression in terms of how the law is practiced, through technological advances and steps to increase efficiency throughout the legal process; but the legal profession is also experiencing progression in the makeup of the profession, in terms of who is practicing law. Anyone who has been involved in the legal profession can tell you that change certainly occurs slowly. Similarly, it is often the case, not just within the legal world, that individuals are reluctant to change in general. We all become set in our ways and accustomed to our own routine that develops through habit and what feels most comfortable to us, as do professionals. However, without change, there can be no progression. Inevitably, although success may have occurred, it will halt. A lawyer or law firm will reach a point of success maximization if they remain stagnant in their method or practice, as the competition will undoubtedly outperform and surpass those unwilling to embrace change.

One of the most notable points from Garcia’s presentation was when he discussed the need for diversity in the makeup of attorneys practicing law, as different life experiences are paramount to confronting the various client needs and challenges faced while practicing law. In addition, Garcia highlighted that there needs to be a change in the mentality of the legal profession from a “know it all” attitude, to a “learn it all” mentality. Since their law school enrollment, lawyers have been bred to accept the competitive “know it all” culture of the legal world. This is an overused and failing approach, it is now time for a “learn it all” mentality that fosters progression and comports with the emerging diversity within the law profession. Without change, individuals will be less likely to admit their own biases, to move past them, and to welcome perspectives and ideas different from their own.

You might be asking yourself, “what do I know, as a law student? How could my opinion be relevant, since I haven’t stepped foot into the actual practice of law?” That is correct, I haven’t had a chance to flap my wings and soar out on my own into the law profession just yet, but I have dipped my toes into this unique, time-capsuled world. Ultimately, my individual experience in the legal profession bears no disaccreditation on my ability to study the law, observe actual practice, and report my findings. The truth of the matter is that the benefits of diversity are realized whenever one individual must work in coordination with another, no matter what the profession or underlying activity may be. Take sports for example: A soccer team would not be successful if every player had the skill set of a goalie, it would be much more difficult for the ball to reach the back of the opponent’s net. A basketball team full of Shaquille O’Neals might seem like a great idea, as Shaq was a successful player recognized for his on-court accomplishments, but the opposing team would simply push the fast break and outrun the big-bodied O’Neals for the entire night. It is diversity that allows a team to succeed by bringing various sets of skills, perspectives from different life-experiences, and alternate approaches to problem solving.

In a world that is constantly looking for the “next-best thing,” it is the innovators that experience success. We must push past our comfort zone towards change, incorporating differences as various tools needed to achieve progression. Without change we are ultimately left at a standstill, watching those capable of incorporating diversity and accepting the challenge to reach beyond what is comfortable pass us by. The same is true for the legal profession.