A Pledge to the ProfessionClick here to download the Pledge form
For a number of years, the American legal profession has been aware, if not overtly conscious, of the disproportionately low representation of some racial/ethnic groups within its membership. The numbers of Native Americans and Hispanic and African American males who enter law school, graduate and pass the bar are significantly lower than those of other racial/ethnic groups and genders, and in some cases may even be declining.
This is of particular concern. It is not indicative of intellectual capacity or aptitude but rather proof positive of the uneven playing field – poverty; malnutrition; under-performing schools; inadequate health care; the digital divide; and a limited or a lack of educational resources such as libraries and after school programs – which our society ignores, yet upon which it asks everyone to compete. If such trends continue, corporate law departments, law firms, government agencies and other employers of lawyers will bear the brunt of the problem. Diversity and inclusion strengthens the profession and enhances its ability to serve clients, solve problems, resolve conflicts, and dispense justice. A healthy and vigorous pipeline of diverse individuals entering the legal profession permits there to be an ease of recruitment of the diverse lawyers whom corporate law departments, law firms, government agencies and other employers need to best serve their clients and customer bases. It enhances the pool of candidates who will someday be sitting on our courts and formulating public policy. It permits, over time, the recruitment and retention of truly the best lawyers possible. It serves everyone’s best interest to have adequate diversity that visibly illustrates the racial, ethnic, gender, religious, sexual orientation and gender identity, disability, generational, and geographic diversity that is evident in the rest of society among the lawyers entering the legal profession. It makes us better lawyers and judges.
There have been, and continues to be, any number of efforts and initiatives aimed at what has come to be called “pipeline diversity” within the legal profession. These run the gamut from classroom visits from lawyers and judges to formal programs such as Street Law and the Just the Beginning Foundation. And yet, while these existing programs have generated very positive results, the overall numbers do not improve significantly.
The Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession is concerned about these numbers. Our own examination of the issue suggests that the best chance for a solution is not to create one more pipeline program but rather to support the excellent existing programs and extend the impact they are having. Toward that end, we are launching our Pledge to the Profession and asking our colleagues to join us in this endeavor.
The Pledge to the Profession is a personal promise by corporate law departments, law firms of all sizes, governmental law departments, bar associations, and any other group of lawyers to have 10% of the lawyers in the group each spend a minimum of one day (or its equivalent) during the upcoming year – September 1, 2010 to August 31, 2011 – working with a local group of students – a classroom in a local school, a scout troop, a park district after school program, a Sunday School class, etc. – through 1) an already existing pipeline diversity program from among those vetted by the Law School Admission Council and the American Bar Association and listed in their Pipeline Diversity Directory (www.abanet.org/pipelinediversity); or, using either 2) the outline of talking points prepared by DiscoverLaw.org for use in classroom visits; or, 3) one of the American Bar Association’s Dialogue Programs (www.abanet.org/publiced/features/dialogues). It is our belief that expanding the opportunities for students to see and meet lawyers and judges, to hear their stories, to understand the work they do and the role they play in society, and to imagine and envision themselves is such roles will not only bolster the number and caliber of students choosing to pursue a career in the law, but also provide lawyers with a meaningful opportunity for volunteerism and pro bono service.
Participants can choose how best to meet their pledge. They can sign up to participate in an existing program. Or, they can arrange a visit to a class at a local school or a school in another neighborhood. The students can be elementary, high school or college students. The pledge can be approached as a group project or individually. Lawyers can partner with other lawyers in their office or invite a current or prospective client to work with them as a demonstration (or reminder) of how great it is to work with them. Lawyers can use this as an opportunity to give back while they recall why it was they became a lawyer in the first place.
What gets measured, gets done.
We hope that many of our colleagues will join us and support this endeavor to expose more students to our profession and encourage them to consider a career in the law by signing onto the Pledge to the Profession. At the same time, however, we recognize that the Pledge becomes meaningless if it is simply a feel-good effort with little or no follow through. Therefore, we have arranged for a survey mechanism on the Institute website (www.TheIILP.com) where lawyers who complete their hour (or more) of service can record it. At the end of the year, the Institute will be able to report on how many signatories met their pledge and recognize those that did.
Ours is a profession which values pro bono and public service and volunteerism. The Pledge to the Profession provides a mechanism to spur busy lawyers who face multiple and competing demands upon their time to provide a minimal amount of service in a meaningful way for the benefit of their community, their profession, and the future.