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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 5, 201905:00 AM EST

Diversity remains a challenge in legal profession

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We can work to be part of the solution.
Christen Luikart

By Christen Luikart & Joni Poitier • JBA Diversity Committee co-chairs

In January, the National Association for Law Placement published its 2018 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms.

The news release distributed with the report noted significant findings stating, “the report shows that while women, minorities, and LGBT lawyers made gains in overall representation at major U.S. law firms in 2018 compared with 2017, representation of Black/African Americans among associates remains below prerecession numbers.”

Joni Poitier

According to NALP, women make up 49.51% of associates at law firms, while black representation is 4.48%. 

Additional significant findings in the report include: 

• An increase of about 0.7% in the representation of minorities among partners is noted as the largest increase over the entire span of NALP’s compilation of these figures. 

• Minority women continue to be the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level. 

• The number and percentage of LGBT lawyers reached new heights and the percentage of LGBT summer associates at firms with more than 700 lawyers reached a new high of 6.42%. 

• The reporting of lawyers with disabilities (of any race or gender) remains scant. 

• Despite small increases in the past three years, the representation of Black/African American associates remains below its prerecession level, and representation of Black/African American partners has barely changed since 2009.

NALP Executive Director James Leipold noted that the 2018 report “is a good news/bad news story” and that “while progress towards greater diversity and inclusion among lawyers in U.S. law firms continues to be made, and underlying population demographics play a role, much, much work remains to be done.”

You may be thinking: Thanks for the information, but how do those figures compare to the minority population in law school?  

Here is data gathered by the American Bar Association regarding the nationwide first-year class enrollment for law schools for Fall 2018:

• Men: 17,977

• Women: 20,366

• Minority men: 4,837

• Minority women: 7,135

• Other: 9

Of the entering student population in 2018, men accounted for 46.8%, women accounted for 53.1%, minority men accounted for 12.6% and minority women accounted for 18.6%.  That’s a sharp contrast to the aforementioned numbers reported within U.S. law firms.   

Even with the increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion, the legal profession remains one of the least diverse. It stands to reason that without the support of leadership, mentorship and sponsorship, diversity initiatives will fail. Make no mistake, these terms are not interchangeable and young attorneys, especially minorities, need support.

A leader in a firm must acknowledge the role of implicit bias in the recruitment and retention of attorneys.

A mentor provides guidance and advice to a lawyer to help him or her navigate a career path and this relationship is largely based on connection, chemistry and trust.

A sponsor acts as a coach and advocate, and their advocacy is powerful. A sponsor speaks up for you in situations where your voice may be muted. You may not always know who your sponsors are.    

Where do we go from here? Join the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Jacksonville Bar Association at our next meeting at noon Sept. 18. We have a pool of bright minds and well-intentioned individuals.

If we work together to address these issues, we can work to be part of the solution instead of unknowingly contributing to the problem. 

Christen Luikart is a partner at Murphy & Anderson. Joni Poitier is a partner at Moseley, Prichard, Parrish, Knight & Jones.

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