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Legal profession lags in diversity as compared to other professions

December 11, 2013

Minority employment in the legal profession has grown significantly slower as compared to certain medical and business professions, according to a study released by Microsoft Corp.

The computer software giant commissioned the study to compare the rates of diversity in comparable professions: accountants and auditors; financial managers; and physicians and surgeons. These professions have similar requirements as the legal community such as broad education or licensing requirements.
 
Between 2003 and 2012, the percentage of underrepresented minorities – African-Americans and Hispanics – who are attorneys grew only 0.8 percent. The percentage of underrepresented minorities who worked as financial managers grew nearly six percent from 2003 to 2012. The percentage of doctors, as well as auditors and accountants, also saw larger increases over that same nine-year period as compared to the lawyers.

The percentage of underrepresented minorities in each of these professions lags behind the national workforce. In 2012, people of color made up nearly one-third of the labor force. According to the study, the gap between diversity in the legal profession and diversity in the U.S. has worsened over the past nine years.

“Unless the legal profession makes faster progress, it will miss the dynamism and creativity that diversity brings to other fields. We risk failure in having a profession that is as diverse as the country we serve – a prerequisite for healthy legal service for a democracy,” said Brad Smith, general counsel & executive vice president, legal & corporate affairs at Microsoft.

The study questions why careers in medicine and business have less of a diversity gap than the law. It points out there are no national scholarships on the scale of the medical and business fields and license passage rates are significantly higher in the medical fields.

The study suggests that financial support should be provided to enable all students to adequately prepare for the bar exam, and that bar prep be part of the standard law school curriculums.

“While many law firms, in-house legal departments and others helpfully are increasing development, mentoring and growth opportunities for under-represented minorities, evidence shows that we continue to lose out on the chance to recruit many promising professionals before they begin their career,” Smith said. “For example, the only national study of bar passage rates (LSAC, 1998) revealed that more than 20 percent of African Americans and more than 10 percent of Hispanic/Latino law students never passed the bar, compared to less than 5 percent of white law students. If African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos passed the bar at the same rate as whites (96.7 percent), this would have the same impact as increasing the number of African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos in law school by 18 percent.”

Smith calls on states to publish pass-fail rates broken down by ethnic background of the test takers.

Microsoft also suggests making alternative degrees available that are more flexible than full-time programs, as well as expand admissions criteria that consider attributes and experiences in addition to test metrics.
 

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