Issues,  Law School,  Legal Practice

That’s It? The legal industry’s slow, resistant march towards diversity

First, if you haven’t had a chance to do a deep dive in the latest legal profile by the ABA here it is. It is full of great gems and covers various sectors but as usual focuses heavy on big law.

Ultimately, what the profile reveals is that it is hard out here for a Latina attorney. Latinx have the highest rates of attrition, attorneys of color, in general, are less likely to be promoted to equity partner than white attorneys and more likely to leave the firm. Women also left during COVID to take care of households and that will have long-lasting implications that we are yet to see. And of course, the percentage of Latinx attorneys rose by just 1 percent.

Why does it seem so difficult to join and sustain this career?

My hypothesis is because this is an industry that values hyper-masculinity. This is seen in the ways that it value competitiveness, apathy, exclusivity, and dismissive attitudes towards having a personal life, which results in toxic environments. Add a pinch of patriarchy that requires successful attorneys to basically have someone who can cook/clean/care for them at home and well, like I said, it’s hard out there for us.

Oh of course, don’t forget racism and xenophobia, which is also incredibly present within the law and the industry itself. It can be really difficult to experience all of this, especially if you go the “traditional” route and join the private sector, but government and non-profits have similar issues too.

But if it’s so horrible, why do I encourage people to become lawyers?

I encourage people to become lawyers because I don’t think we should be dissuaded from achieving our goals simply because those in power want to keep us out. And knowing the barriers that we may face helps us identify them when they are happening to us and create game plans on how to address them, including a plan b when you realized you’ve hit a wall.

Of course that means you have to do more work than your white counterparts and that is just as frustrating when the industry seems to move at a glacial pace to make things better (one percentage growth, really?!). It raises the question as to whether the industry even wants to be better, more diverse, and inclusive…

Ok, again you ask, why encourage ppl to join this profession? Because lawyers have power, whether we like it or not. We gain access to knowledge, are granted entry into spaces normally excluded, and provides tools we can use to better our community, family, and ourselves. The ABA profile does not paint a great picture but for those called to this profession I hope it doesn’t discourage you. We can overcome lots of obstacles and owe it to ourselves to fight for our career goals.

What else can we do?

One. Keep advocating for big and small changes. That can include large advocacy work (perhaps you want your state to improve it’s bar exam process) or it can be informal (maybe you mentor young women interested in the law). If you have space for it, finding ways to push and demand that this industry improve can make a difference.

Two. Stay introspective. We’ve discussed many times that the higher we climb as professionals that more likely we are to drink the kool-aid. Check yourself, often, to ensure that the classism of this profession hasn’t seeped into your thinking or behavior. Remember, we don’t gatekeep for nobody!

Three. Focus on you. I talk a lot about using this degree to help community but as individuals we also have the right to feel fulfilled in what we do. Ask yourself, what does success mean to me? Does it mean equity partner at a big law firm? For many it actually does not. So then, what will you do to actually achieve success (as you define it)? What does financial stability mean to you—it will be different for everyone because our own circumstances require different things—when I was fresh out of law school, stability for me just meant not living paycheck to paycheck because that was all I knew growing up. And as I advance in my career that definition shifts. Finally, ask what is your passion? After a while, it may not be traditionally lawyering, but the skills you hone and knowledge you gain as a JD/attorney will last a lifetime.

Ultimately, becoming a lawyer is hard, practicing in this industry is difficult and neither is changing any time soon. But remind yourself that you have the right and the ability to fight for your goals, strategize your journey, and craft the career that you want.