August 12, 2016 Articles

Six Stark Predictions about Diversity and Inclusion for 2020 and Beyond

Diversity efforts in law have been beneficial. But where is the room for improvement?

By Robert K. Dixon

Over the past several years, Fortune 500 companies, law firms, legal organizations, law schools, and others have launched countless diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives. It goes without saying that all of these efforts have been beneficial. But there is always room for improvement. With that in mind, I reached out to various members of the legal community who, collectively, represent each major aspect of the profession, for a well-reasoned outlook on the issue of diversity and inclusion.

Beth Kransberger | Legal Educator and Diversity and Inclusion Consultant with ME Kransberger Consulting Group
Trend data about the future of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession continue to reveal deeply persistent, troubling issues of equity and inclusion. Despite herculean efforts by many, very little measurable progress in the overall level of inclusion in our profession has been made in the past 15 years. In 2000, 89 percent of the profession was Caucasian. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us we are still at that exact same level of inclusion 15 years later. We remain at 11 percent lawyers of color nationally, despite the fact that the overall percentage of students of color in all law schools reached a national average of nearly 27 percent in 2014. The good news is that we have the ability and knowledge to alter this future landscape at any time. All that is missing is a broad, collective will to act, within an integrated, collaborative approach. 

Eileen M. Letts | Partner | Zuber Lawler & Del Duca
Firms and legal departments will become more diverse in the future because of the predicted face of the world being more diverse. However, I don’t think the percentages will be the same as the population because I don’t think the opportunities are going to increase the way they should. I think it will still be difficult for persons of color to achieve the same benefits as others. I make those statements based on the statements and sentiments made by many about diversity. I recently heard that some lawyers think there are too many diversity initiatives now.

Candice A. Garcia-Rodrigo | The Rodrigo Law Firm, PC
While the industry has made great strides toward more diversity and inclusion of legal professionals of different ethnicity and women, the legal profession remains largely dominated by white male attorneys and law students. I believe that will continue to be true for the industry, without any measurable change in the next decade. Although diversity encompasses at least those two types of backgrounds, a third underrepresented population will become increasingly significant to the legal profession; that is, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. I do not believe that there will be much change in the future for inclusion of women and persons of non-white race/ethnicity, but there will be growth in the LGBT population for the legal profession. 

The Honorable Karen Wells Roby | Eastern District of Louisiana
I predict that diversity will remain a factor for law schools. At present, fewer African American men are seeking out graduate degrees, which will continue to remain a challenge. While African American women apply at higher numbers, given the current racial disparities in the profession, they too may begin to seek out other higher learning experiences. Law schools will have to remain focused on the importance of a diverse learning environment and the impact that increasing the number of diverse attorneys will have on the profession.

Bradley Muldrow | In-House Counsel | San Diego Gas & Electric
I believe that the recent events involving the killing of unarmed African Americans by police officers and private citizens, particularly those killings that did not result in indictments or convictions, will inspire many young African Americans to pursue careers in the legal profession. This will result in an increase in African American law students and attorneys within the next decade or so. However, while representation of African Americans in district attorney, U.S. Attorney, and public defender offices throughout the country will increase, there will not likely be a similar trend of increased representation of African Americans in civil litigation positions. Therefore, law schools, community groups, and employers will need to continue, if not increase, their efforts to attract African American attorneys to the civil litigation field.

Daniel E. Eaton | Shareholder | Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek
The U.S. Bureau of Census estimates that by 2043, members of minority groups will constitute a numerical majority of the overall U.S. population. As this trend has unfolded in recent years, corporate clients have demanded with some success that the law firms that service them staff their matters with lawyers that reflect clients’ increasingly diverse customer base. To what extent will that client-driven law firm diversity expand? To what extent will the contraction in the overall demand for legal services and the increased pressure on the corporate bottom line affect this client-driven demand for diversity? Will the demand for, and accommodation of, law firm diversity get louder in the face of demographic growth or go silent in the face of a backlash driven by stress on the bottom lines of corporations and law firms alike?

A Shared Outlook
It is interesting that while these contributors are seasoned members of the profession, millennial attorneys, partners in private law firms, a managing partner, a sole practitioner, a member of the judiciary, an in-house counsel, and even a legal educator, almost all of the contributors painted a somewhat pessimistic view of the future. However, despite these stark predictions—and to borrow a phrase from Doc Brown (Back to the Future)—the future is whatever we make it; so make it a good one. Members of the legal community should assess their own efforts to build more diverse law firms, law schools, and legal departments to determine whether any of their current practices might be modified or enhanced to prevent or at least mitigate these predictions.

Keywords: litigation, diversity, inclusion, LGBT, women, minorities

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