Diverse in diversity thinking

November 19, 2009
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When the word diversity first comes to mind, you may think of people of different ethnicities, races, or gender. And that’s become the problem because “diversity” has become a bit stagnant in what people think makes up a diverse population and workforce. As the years have passed since diversity became a hot topic in the legal community and what firms look for to achieve, diversity has expanded to include religion, sexual orientation, and people with disabilities.

The American Bar Association just released its report from its second national conference in June on the employment of lawyers with disabilities. The ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law first conducted this conference in 2006.

The timing of this report comes just before Indiana Lawyer's Diversity in Practice event Friday. The event and awards recognize and celebrate those who have excelled in their committment to diversity in all its aspects.  

In the 99-page report from the ABA conference, participants attempt to persuade law firms to recruit, hire, and promote attorneys with disabilities as well as why attorneys with disabilities are needed in the profession. There are plenty of interesting personal stories from attorneys who are blind, in a wheel chair, or have Tourette syndrome about how law firms or other attorneys have reacted to their disabilities.

It’s true that people with disabilities make up a small percentage of the legal profession – only about 2 percent of 2007 law school graduates reported that they were disabled. A study conduced by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association this year found that around 2 percent of attorneys from the AmLaw 200 firms that responded to the survey identified themselves as disabled.

But as one speaker pointed out, everyone faces the possibility they may become disabled due to an accident or illness. Graduates with disabilities are also somewhat less likely to get jobs in private practice, according to the report.

One main reason for the conference was to encourage legal employers to sign a “Pledge for Change” and implement and promote disability diversity. The ABA says it’s important to promote disability diversity with the same level of diversity based on race, ethnicity, and gender.

The point of having a diverse workforce is to include people of differing backgrounds. This report helps to remind us that we shouldn’t consider only certain categories or the same two or three when thinking diversity. We need to be diverse in our thinking when considering diversity.
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