Our Law School Course: "Diversity and Inclusion: A Social and Professional Responsibility"

The legal profession remains one of the least diverse professions in the country. People of color make up just 10% of partners and 26% of associates in law firms nationally. In many cities, the percentages are significantly lower. This lack of diversity creates the perception (and in many cases the reality) that the judicial system is neither accessible nor fairly applied to all races and ethnicities. Moreover, it means that diverse lawyers are not available to provide pro bono and other legal services and to serve as future legislators, judges, public policy advocates, bar leaders, and community leaders.

Compounding the problem is the lack of education most lawyers receive about how law, over centuries, has historically been used to create and perpetuate many of the racial, ethnic, gender and other kinds of disparities that continue to challenge our society today. This results in a legal profession that too often is unaware or unable to recognize, much less acknowledge, the particular challenges that exist for anyone who is not a straight, White male. Young people who enter the legal profession today are ill prepared to understand or address both its lack of diversity and the many subtle, nuanced manifestations of bias against women, racial/ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, and disabled lawyers. The end result is a perpetuation of higher rates of attrition for these lawyers and a lack of the much-needed diversity for the profession.

Recognizing the systemic challenges facing the legal profession if it failed to better prepare future lawyers to recognize and understand the lack of diversity so that they could become empowered to address it more impactfully earlier in their careers, IILP designed a semester-long course that could educate them about DEI in the legal profession. This was not intended to be a class in Constitutional Law or Employment Law or Legal History. Rather, it was designed to teach students about why the profession they were entering is so lacking in diversity, the history of efforts to address that lack, and what they need to know if they hope to change the legal profession to become more diverse and inclusive. It was also structured to ensure that it addressed all types of diversity in all practice settings. The course was designed in the hope that by sharing the syllabus, other law schools could begin to offer similar classes.

IILP piloted the course in Fall, 2021 with Loyola University Chicago School of Law. It was very well-received by the students. Comments from students included:

  • “This was not a run-of-the-mill law school class. It was a LIFE COURSE.”
  • “[This class] was the first time I found my voice.”
  • “I’ve told every 2L that they need to take this class.”

In addition, the students’ innovative class projects are having an impact beyond the classroom. For instance, one student created a publication on best practices for starting and maintaining diversity-focused employee resource groups that one growing Chicago-area business is already using. Another student proposed an informational pamphlet for LGBTQ+ victims of domestic violence or abuse to help them understand and anticipate judicial proceedings that are triggered if they file a police report. The Center on Halstead, a community center that serves the LGBTQ+ community in Chicago is using the pamphlet and tells us that it fills a much-needed informational gap. A third student envisioned a pipeline program to facilitate and support the entry of Black men into the profession by providing a support network to encourage, assist, and mentor Black men interested in becoming lawyers. Large law firms and corporate law departments have already expressed a desire to participate in this new effort.

Since 2021, IILP has been invited back each fall to teach this course. We are currently working to bring the course to other law schools.

We are grateful to all of the members of the IILP community that serve as guest speakers each year and otherwise support this course. 

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