Recapping Diversity Summit 2020: The Issues, Solutions, and What’s Next
On January 21, I attended “Diversity Summit 2020,” a program convened
by the Bar Association of San Francisco, Berkeley Law’s California Constitution Center, and California ChangeLawyers. The conference explored two questions to address the state of
diversity in the legal profession: Where are the leaks in the pipeline? And
what can we do to fix them?
As I recently wrote in the Daily Journal, legal profession surveys show that the profession has a persistent,
systemic inclusivity problem. This conference brought together key stakeholders
— including California’s Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, leaders from the
Bar Association of San Francisco, the State Bar of California, ChangeLawyers, AccessLex, and retired Judge Jeremy Fogel, executive director of the Berkeley Judicial Institute — to discuss the unique issues California’s legal community faces in
terms of representation, what these issues mean for the profession as a whole,
and how to resolve them. The conference unearthed root causes and concentrated
on solutions to improve the profession’s current state of representation, create
pipeline programs to law school, and promote key advancement opportunities,
such as federal judicial clerkships.
The conference highlighted two high-level issues.
First, presenters agreed that the long-term and recent trends in
representation within the legal profession are discouraging. Early significant
gains achieved by diverse groups like women and people of color have slowed to small
long-term gains across all categories. For example, women went from near-zero representation
to around 30% of lawyers in the 1970s. But since then, women’s representation
has only marginally increased. In 2009, women made up about 31% in 2009 of the
profession, and by 2019, they constituted just 36%.
The 10- and 20-year trends are also either flat or declining for most
demographically underrepresented categories. The conference reviewed over 20
long-term studies from national bar groups, which showed that while the newest
cohorts in the California bar are far more diverse than in years past,
attorneys in California are much less diverse than the state’s population.
Latinos are particularly underrepresented among California licensed attorneys. And
the studies showed that across the country, the profession today looks much like
it in 1980: about 80% white and male.
Second, presenters explained that lawyers
from diverse backgrounds lag behind at every point in the academic and career timeline:
graduating from law school, passing the bar, and advancing at work, in judicial
clerkships, and in judicial appointments. Compared with their percentage of the
population, and with white men, diverse lawyers do not experience similar advancement
in their careers. Compared with their peers, they underperform most in private
law firm employment and partnership advancement.
And there are other significant disparities.
The data shows that addressing any single point in the timeline may be inadequate
to achieving parity. Rather, any solution must focus on achieving parity of
diverse lawyers at every stage and in every sphere.
Despite that seemingly dire state of
affairs, the presenters proposed several promising solutions.
Solution One: to achieve inclusion, we must
create conditions for success
Chris Punongbayan, executive director of ChangeLawyers, shared a
poignant insight with attendees. He explained that inclusion in the legal
profession requires examining whether we are creating the right conditions for
diverse groups to succeed — from the law school experience to bar preparation
and eventually in practice. This means addressing many challenges that manifest
in law school and in the profession as a whole, such as impostor syndrome,
stereotype threat, implicit bias, and internalized stigma. Punongbayan also
drew attention to one under-analyzed obstacle to entry: the bar exam. He
explained how myriad barriers affect bar exam passage rates, including time,
knowledge, and skills, as well as financial and health barriers.
Punongbayan’s solution to these problems: Making diversity a mission
statement (instead of an occasional agenda focus item) and a personal
responsibility for managers creates more favorable conditions for increasing
diversity and benefits the organization.
Solution Two: mentorship increases the
potential for success
Judge Fogel’s presentation on solutions to
increase federal law clerk diversity built upon findings from California
Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu’s 2017 analysis, A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law. The data Fogel shared demonstrated the
role of mentorship in obtaining judicial clerkships. His findings showed that black
law students with one or multiple mentors were much more likely to obtain
judicial clerkships compared to their peers with only one mentor or no mentor
at all. One mentor was better than none, and each additional mentor
significantly increased success rates.
Focusing on an earlier part of the pipeline,
Punongbayan and Sara Berman, director of academic and bar success programs at
Access Lex, revealed that mentorship and resources can be key to strengthening
the diversity of law school applicants and matriculants. Their findings showed
that contributing to pipeline programs, providing financial assistance to
students to reduce the cost of applications, creating scholarships specifically
for LSAT preparation, and supporting law school diversity recruitment efforts
can all help diverse law school applicants — and eventually diverse law
students — get the resources they need to succeed and advance in the
The takeaway: mentoring and supporting
diverse law students and graduates greatly increases their chances of success.
Solution Three: improved attorney workplace
satisfaction can minimize attrition
Yolanda Jackson, executive director of the
Bar Association of San Francisco, and Donna Hershkowitz, executive director of
the State Bar of California, presented data showing that attorney satisfaction
is impacted by three key areas: collective work issues, individual/career
issues, and work-life balance. Limited individual advancement opportunities due
to negative performance evaluations or unchallenging assignments, the absence
of meaningful opportunities in the workplace for leadership and mentoring, as
well as a lack of employer-led initiatives to improve work-life balance such as
family leave and flexible hours, all create low satisfaction among diverse
attorneys. Job satisfaction will remain low unless those conditions are
addressed, leading to more diverse attorneys dropping out of the profession.
That leaves fewer diverse role models and mentors for upcoming diverse lawyers.
The solution here: If you are a
non-white-male attorney in practice, staying in the game while trying to make
it work for you means you can be there to model for and support the next
the profession’s perennial diversity problem can seem like a daunting task, especially
if you aren’t a hiring partner or equipped to endow scholarship funds. If you
are so vested, then consider thinking critically about creating conditions to
improve success for diverse law school applicants, law students, and attorneys.
And if not, then play small ball: even one mentorship meeting over coffee with
a young-and-diverse lawyer could make all the difference. Every diverse lawyer
at the conference (including the Chief Justice) had a story about someone — a
mentor, a teacher, a colleague, or a friend — who told them that they belonged
in the profession and were capable of success. Say so to the next young lawyer
who doesn’t look like you, and that could become the story a future Chief
Noor-ul-ain S. Hasan is a third-year law student at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. She is the 108th editor-in-chief of the California Law Review and chief executive officer of California Law Review, Inc., a California nonprofit corporation. She is a former in-house diversity and inclusion strategist and serves on the advisory board of a global diversity and inclusion consulting firm.