March 29, 2021 Articles

How Judges Increase Diversity in the Legal Profession

Some judges increasingly promote professionalism by using their position to open doors for junior attorneys and attorneys from historically underrepresented groups in the profession.

By Richard Johnson
One group in the legal world has a heightened platform to help create a more diverse profession: judges.

One group in the legal world has a heightened platform to help create a more diverse profession: judges.

Pexels | Ekaterina Bolovtsova

As is well documented, the legal profession struggles with diversity. Recent data shows that at several of the largest domestic firms, fewer than 10 percent of associates are minorities. Diversity in the partnership ranks fares no better. As the National Association for Law Placement’s 2020 diversity report put it, “[e]quity partners in multi-tier law firms continue to be disproportionately white men.” Of course, not all firms are created equal. Many firms, for example, have adopted what is known as the Mansfield Rule to boost diversity. Law firms committed to the rule promise to consider minority and women candidates for various leadership roles. Other firms, however, decline even to produce statistics to those who track diversity in the industry.

Another well-known barrier exists for junior litigators of all stripes: opportunities for in-court experience are scarce. Few cases go to trial, and at many firms oral argument and other court appearances are reserved for experienced litigators. Some attribute this problem to clients not wanting to be a junior attorney’s “first.” According to one litigation partner, “Every surgeon has his first surgery but the client and the patient doesn’t necessarily want it to be them.” Firms also might believe (founded or not) that judges will respond more favorably to familiar counsel. Whatever the cause for why junior litigators increasingly do not receive in-court experience, the consequence is that they—who tend to be more diverse than their senior counterparts—are deprived of what likely drew them to the practice of law in the first place. Moreover, the small group of “seasoned” litigators who regularly appear and argue in court continues not to reflect the diversity of the clients and the public. 

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