ILNews

Too little diversity among attorneys

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrint

Although the legal community has stepped up efforts during the past decade to bring more minorities into the profession, the level of diversity remains abysmally low.

The percentage of all attorneys who were of either African, Asian or Latino descent was just 11.1 percent in 2011, according to data complied by the Center for Legal Inclusiveness. Compare that to medical scientists who topped the list with a diversity percentage of 42.9 percent.

2diversitypanel-15col.jpg The St. Joseph County Bar Association recently hosted a panel discussion on “Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession.” Panelists were (from left), Mauri Miller, Notre Dame Law School student; Felipe Merino, Merino Law Firm P.C., South Bend; John Z. Huang, Indiana Department of Education, Office of Legal Affairs; retired Justice Frank Sullivan; Daryl A. “Sandy” Chamblee, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Washington, D.C.; and Jimmie L. McMillian, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Indianapolis.(Photos courtesy St. Joseph County Bar Association)

In 2010, the legal profession was slightly higher with diversity reaching 11.6 percent.

Paul Singleton and Victoria Wolf, attorneys in South Bend, are co-chairs of the St. Joseph County Bar Association Diversity Committee. They recently organized a Diversity and Inclusion Summit to, Singleton said, shed light on the issue and bounce around ideas about attracting more minorities, women, and gays and lesbians to the practice of law.

victoria wolf Wolf

Retired Indiana Justice Frank Sullivan gave the keynote address, then led the discussion among a five-member panel that included four practicing attorneys and one law school student in an examination of diversity in the legal community.

Wolf, who practices at Leone Halpin LLP, had a career in business before she went to law school and has found the legal profession is slow to undertake efforts to become more diversified. In her opinion, law firms have been resistant to adding attorneys of different races and gender just as these firms have been resistant to adopting many new trends in technology or business practices.

She, herself, has experienced some outdated attitudes, recalling one incident when an older lawyer asked her if she was a paralegal. After she told him she was an attorney, he asked if she was sure.

“I see an intrinsic need for a diverse community,” Wolf said. “I just want to do whatever I can to make it so.”

Two hurdles

Sullivan pointed to two hurdles to getting more minority lawyers into law firms. One is education. Working with students in college and high school and getting them involved in programs like teen court, mock trial competition and Indiana’s CLEO program can help plant the seed of becoming a lawyer.

nelson vogel Singleton

Singleton, an associate at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, agreed. Growing up he was always one of just a handful of African-Americans in his school, a situation that did not change when he attended law school at Arizona State University.

He attributes his academic success to being “blessed and privileged” because his parents put a high priority on education. Other people he has encountered are just as smart, he said, but in their homes, doing well in school was not important so they did not become lawyers or doctors even though they had talent and ability.

The result has been the number of African-American attorneys is not proportional to the overall minority community. Same with the Hispanic community where he found the number of Hispanic attorneys to be “shockingly low” in Phoenix.

Being one of a few brings an additional pressure, Singleton said, since sometimes he feels as if he is representing an entire race. Yet, he hopes through hard work and doing his job well, clients and colleagues will see him as an attorney and not as a black attorney.

The second hurdle to attracting more minorities to the legal profession is having law firms be more welcoming and provide a place where minority lawyers can succeed, Sullivan said.

That point was echoed by two panelists, South Bend native Daryl “Sandy” Chamblee, partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, D.C., and Jimmie McMillian, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP in Indianapolis.

More than simply hiring lawyers of diverse backgrounds, firms must also be inclusive, Chamblee said. Law firms must ensure that all attorneys get to do substantial work and have the ability to progress in their careers.

McMillian continued Chamblee’s point, noting the number one reason attorneys have for leaving a law firm is lack of hours. If minorities are at the bottom of the list of billable hours and not being given engaging work, that, he noted, is an indication that the firm has no structure to help people do well professionally.

“Nobody wants to be in a system where they are failing and nobody can tell them why,” he said.
 

vogel Vogel

McMillian credits his tenure and success at Barnes & Thornburg to senior partners taking an interest in him and helping and encouraging him. Mentorship is key to making a person feel part of a firm and enabling him or her to do quality work, he said. Indeed, that level of personal investment is something his friends working in law firms in bigger cities like Atlanta and Chicago did not receive.

‘Gravitational bias’

Chamblee’s and McMillian’s observations led Nelson Vogel to the conclusion his firm needs to do more. Vogel, partner at the Barnes & Thornburg South Bend office, noted all the firm’s offices do many things to improve diversity, but, in the competition to hire more minorities and women lawyers, the South Bend office has a difficult time attracting candidates and an even more difficult time getting them to stay beyond three or four years.

Hosting networking and social events, recruiting law school students and sponsoring a variety of events are among ways Barnes & Thornburg reaches out to diverse communities. The South Bend office also hosts a reception for law students at the Notre Dame Law School and interviews candidates during minority job fairs.

 

diversity Former Notre Dame football player and current Notre Dame law student Chris Stewart (left) talks to St. Joseph Probate Judge candidate Andre Gammage at the diversity summit.(Photos courtesy St. Joseph County Bar Association)

Vogel touted South Bend as a great community and said associates at his office gain the advantage over larger firms on the East and West coasts by having sophisticated legal work to do, getting more contact with clients, and having a better chance of making partner.

However, the panelists explained the problem of attracting minorities often originates in the lack of diversity at many firms and in many communities. Young lawyers want to work in large metropolitan areas, in part, because they will find more people who look like them.

Chamblee described herself as a “kid in a candy store” when she arrived in Washington, D.C., as a freshman at Georgetown University. No longer would she be the only African-American in class as she had been at her Catholic high school in South Bend. Moreover, as a young adult in the 1970s, she decided to settle and practice law there because she saw African-Americans succeeding in professional careers and she was not sure, as a minority, if she could achieve the same level of success in her hometown.

Sullivan said becoming more diverse requires that everyone overcome their “gravitational bias toward sameness.” People tend to associate with those who are like them, whether the same race, religion, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation, but, he said, everyone must reach outside their communities to not only include those who are different but also go into new places where they will be different.

“We learn so much more when we associate with people of different backgrounds and experiences than our own,” Sullivan said. “It is worth the effort to diversify.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

  • thanks
    It's great to know the bar is working for more diversity. Thankfully we Americans have the edge over the ethnically homogenous 1 billion mainland Chinese on that one. They only have hard work ethic, math, science, and boring stuff like that working for them. Surely, over time their homogenous and social boringness will weakify them, and our superior diversity will, like, um, cause us to rise up somehow, and help alleviate their increasing dominance of international trade and financing of American's national debt. Just imagine how un-diverse it would be for example, if one day they pulled the plug on US debt and the dollar went in the drink, and then they just kind of came over here and bought everything. Diversity might be undermined! Indeed, I think the key to our competitiveness, would be assured by dramatically higher federal funding of more diversity training to ram it down the throats of all the taxpaying American bigots out there that "DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH!" Maybe we can pay for it with a bigot tax on rich, white, male, Christian homophobes!
  • thank you!
    The Summit was very helpful and the organizers did a great job. We need to continue to look for ways to attract the best and brightest people from all ethnic groups into our profession.

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  2. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  3. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  4. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  5. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

ADVERTISEMENT