Dean's Desk: Are we satisfied with the color of the legal profession?

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ivan Bodensteiner DeanIn an earlier article (Indiana Lawyer, Aug. 28, 2013; Vol. 24, No. 13), I questioned the accepted wisdom that there are too many attorneys in the United States and suggested the problem may be in the distribution. I also questioned whether the lack of diversity in the legal profession leads to questions about the credibility of our system of justice. Ms. Odendahl addressed diversity in her article entitled, “Diversity in legal community growing, but pace too slow.” (Indiana Lawyer, Sept. 11, 2013; Vol. 24, No. 14) Others have expressed concern about the lack of racial diversity in the legal profession, but we have struggled in our efforts to make significant change.

Certainly photos of law school graduating classes and bar association members today look different than those taken 40 years ago. The most striking difference is the number of females. Without getting into continuing disparities in earnings and management, law schools and the profession have made progress toward gender equity. Why is racial equity so much more difficult to achieve? Here is my simple answer – the path to law school has always favored privilege and law school rankings, which are far too influential, and result in law schools favoring privilege even more.

In her powerful book, “Moving Diversity Forward: How to go From Well-Meaning to Well-Doing” (ABA 2011), Verna A. Myers says “[w]hite privilege is the name given to the implicit advantages that occur to white people in U.S. society, because they belong to a group that was long ago deemed ‘better than’ or superior” and “without understanding white privilege, it is hard to grasp racial inequality and its causes.” Id. at 109. In short, this is “unearned privilege.” Id. To help understand white privilege, Ms. Myers describes an exercise (“Privilege Walk”) she uses. The participants form a straight line, horizontally across the room, so they all have the same starting point. They are asked to step forward or step back, depending on their answer to each of the following questions:

• If your ancestors were forced against their will to come to the United States, step back.

• If most of your family members worked in careers requiring college education, step forward.

• If you were ever called hurtful names because of your [major identity markers], step back.

• If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, step forward.

• If you were often embarrassed or ashamed of your material possessions, step back.

• If you attended a private school or summer camp, step forward.

• If you ever tried to change your appearance, behavior or speech to avoid being judged on the basis of your [major identity markers], step back.

• If your parents told you that you were beautiful, smart and capable, step forward.

• If your family owned its own house, step forward.

• If you ever were offered a good job because of your association with a friend, mentor or family member, step forward.

• If you believe that an employer turned you down because of your [major identity markers], step back.

• If your parents did not grow up in the United States, step back.

• If your primary ethnic identity is American, step forward.

• If your racial or ethnic group constitutes a majority of your organization’s leadership, step forward.

• If the head of your organization is of your same race/ethnicity, step forward.

• If you’ve been mentored at work by someone of your own race/ethnicity, step forward.

• If most of your clients (customers) are of your same race/ethnicity, step forward.

• If you frequently are the only person of your race/ethnicity at work meetings, step back.

Id. at 112-13. You get the picture. Now, who is in the best position to be the first person to reach the $20 bill, held by a person standing in front of the group? Id. at 113.

In admitting students, law schools continue to rely on factors associated with privilege, including undergraduate GPA (and the prestige or ranking of the institution awarding the degree) and LSAT score (often influenced by the quality of education and ability to pay for a preparation course). As long as factors associated with privilege continue to play a dominant role in access to law schools, progress in diversifying the profession will be very slow. Are we willing to discount white privilege and look for other factors that better predict success in law school and the profession? If not, we should not pretend we want to diversify the profession.•


Ivan Bodensteiner, a nationally recognized authority on constitutional law and civil rights, is the interim dean at Valparaiso University Law School. He has served as interim dean since March 2013.


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.