Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Challenge Remains!

Following a 2009 study of the state of diversity in the legal profession, the American Bar Association’s Presidential Diversity Initiative issued its report and recommendations in April 2010.

The executive summary of the results of that effort begins with the following statement:

This nationwide endeavor quickly revealed that we have made some progress, but the lack of genuine diversity remains a disappointment. As America races toward a future where minorities will be the majority and more marginalized groups make their voices heard, the legal profession’s next steps towards advancing diversity must produce more viable, sustained outcomes. Despite our efforts thus far, racial and ethnic groups, sexual and gender minorities, and lawyers with disabilities continue to be vastly underrepresented in the legal profession” (Emphasis supplied)

In 2000 the legal profession remained about 90 percent Caucasian, while the national population was 70 percent Caucasian. Demographic projections for the legal profession for 2010 are not suggesting that much change will occur. By way of contrast, consider the changes in recent racial/ethnic Census data from the U.S. Census Bureau which demonstrates the following changes within the general population. 300w" sizes="(max-width: 315px) 100vw, 315px" />

As indicated below, it is estimated that by 2042 minorities will constitute the majority of the population in the United States.

One must remember that groups other than racial and ethnic groups must be considered in evaluating diversity within the legal profession. These would include women, persons with disabilities, and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community.

Why Diversity Matters

In its report the ABA Presidential Initiative Commission on Diversity articulated four rationales for creating greater diversity within the legal profession. It is appropriate to identify them below in recognition of the need to continue diversity efforts:

  • The Democratic Rationale: Lawyers and judges have a unique responsibility for sustaining a political system with broad participation by all its citizens. A diverse bar and bench create greater trust in the mechanisms of government and the rule of law.
  • The Business Rationale: Business entities are rapidly responding to the needs of global customers, suppliers, and competitors by creating workforces from many different backgrounds, perspectives, skill sets, and tastes. Ever more frequently, clients expect and sometimes demand lawyers who are culturally and linguistically proficient.
  • The Leadership Rationale: Individuals with law degrees often possess the communication and interpersonal skills and the social networks to rise into civic leadership positions, both in and out of politics. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recognized this when she noted in Grutter v. Bollinger that law schools serve as the training ground for such leadership and, therefore, the profession must be broadly inclusive and accessible to all.
  • The Demographic Rationale: Our country is becoming diverse in many dimensions and we expect that the profile of LGBT lawyers and lawyers with disabilities will rapidly increase in coming years. With respect to the nation’s racial/ethnic populations, the Census Bureau projects that by 2042 the United States will be a “majority minority” country.
The Minnesota Perspective

MSBA has collected some gender-profile information that reveals our membership is approximately 64 percent male and 36 percent female. We have not collected information that would allow us to measure the diversity of our membership on other dimensions. Any attempt to collect such information is probably ill-advised and would be a very sensitive issue.

Minnesota is fortunate to have a number of active minority bar associations, including: Minnesota Women Lawyers; Minnesota American Indian Bar Association; Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association; Minnesota Lavender Bar Association; Minnesota Chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association; Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers; and the Minnesota Black Women Lawyers Network.

In addition, The Minority Bar Summit is a group of over 45 representatives of groups related to the legal profession with a strong diversity mission. The group meets regularly to discuss issues, initiate action, and coordinate activities.

The MSBA internally has the Diversity Committee, Women in the Legal Profession Committee, and the Diversity Implementation Task Force. Both the RCBA and the HCBA have active diversity committees. Recently the three diversity bar committees identified above have worked with Dean Eric Janus of William Mitchell College of Law to advance a diversity pipeline initiative for law schools, which they will present to The Minority Bar Summit.

As you can see from the foregoing, there exists a substantial framework to assist in advancing diversity within the legal profession in Minnesota.

In Minnesota we have achieved much—but much remains to be done. The strategic planning process currently underway within the MSBA recognizes this and will address the important issue of diversity within the legal profession as a major goal.

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Terry Votel

Terry Votel was the 2010-11 president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. The division attorney for the Midwest Division of the Claims Litigation Department of Farmers Insurance Group, he practices in the area of insurance defense. He received his J.D. degree from William Mitchell College of Law.