The 24,000-member New York City Bar Association is announcing a new push to reach future lawyers, as early as elementary and middle school, in an effort to move the needle on diversity in the profession.
The association’s members said it would work with schools, government agencies and nonprofits to reach and cultivate future lawyers at younger ages to seal “leaks” in the lawyer pipeline.
A grant from the New York Community Trust is helping jump start the efforts, which would include encouraging legal employers to give credit for an attorney’s outreach and education efforts to encourage young people to consider the legal profession. A program could be modeled on how pro bono hours are credited for lawyers.
The association—whose formal name is the Association of the Bar of the City of New York —has been tracking the statistics on women and minorities for the past decade. It collects recruitment, promotion and attrition data from 88 law firms among the nearly 140 that have signed onto the City Bar’s statement of diversity principles.
Despite law firms’ commitments, diversity efforts have fallen short because attrition rates from firms are high, and relatively few women and minority lawyers attain leadership posts like managing partner.
“While we continue to do what we can to diversify the legal profession today, as a bar association it falls to us to take the long view as well,” said Roger Juan Maldonado, organization’s president. “The evidence indicates we need to reach kids early to ensure they acquire the skills and opportunities to put them on track to have the opportunity to become successful professionals.”
The City Bar, in a report written by its legal education and pipeline task force, said numerous challenges exist for students who otherwise might enter the legal profession. Students face obstacles “in developing the right skills to pursue opportunities in the law, becoming exposed to opportunities, and in finding programs to support their interest in the profession.”
In that report, “Sealing the Leaks: Recommendations to Diversify and Strengthen the Pipeline to the Legal Profession,” the City Bar outlines the shortcomings of current diversity efforts. It also explains steps that it will take and that it recommends to others in the legal profession to increase diversity.
In addition to creating a pro bono-like requirement, the City Bar said that it wants to create opportunities for lawyers to volunteer in schools; encourage law firms signed onto diversity commitments to also agree to support pipeline initiatives; and advocate for including a required continuing legal education credit category to encompass courses, trainings and activities related to building and maintaining student pipelines.
The City Bar’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion’s 2016 Diversity Benchmarking Report found that “after decades of slow but seemingly steady advances in diversifying the profession, progress for Black/African American and Latinx lawyers, in particular, has appeared to stagnate or, based on recent trends, regress. Second, erosion in the associate pipeline is depleting the pool of talent to leadership in firms.”
The 2016 report found at the end of a law firm associate career, around one-third of minority associates would have left. At the all-important equity partner level, only 8.3 percent were minorities in 2016, according to report data.
The data includes large and mid-sized firms that have made a commitment to diversity, but does not include diversity data for about 6,400 other law firms in New York City. Some of those are minority owned, but the report noted that those firms tend to be few and small in size.
“The City Bar has seen how successful pipeline programs impact students of color,” said Deborah Martin Owens, Executive Director of the City Bar’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. “Those who enter our programs come with the greatest enthusiasm and potential one can ask for but just need some guidance and mentorship to flourish in school or in their first job. We are determined to strengthen the pipeline so none of this potential is lost.”
The City Bar has pipeline initiatives for pre-college students, including the Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program. It also operates other programs for college students, recent graduates and first-year law students.