People of Color in Bar Leadership and High-Level Leaders

Linton Clarke III
Lawyers of color in leadership roles encourage other lawyers of color to believe that they can and will reach higher into leadership.

Lawyers of color in leadership roles encourage other lawyers of color to believe that they can and will reach higher into leadership.

shironosov via iStock

To hear more about the experiences of people of color in bar leadership and as high-level leaders, please consider attending the ABA Young Lawyers Division Spring Conference. The program, “People of Color in Bar Leadership & High-Level Leaders,”  occurring on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at 2:00 p.m. EST, will feature a conversation with past presidents of the National Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association, and the National Native American Bar Association about the impact their engagement has had, the importance of minority bar associations, and their relationship with the ABA. Bar associations serve as a central point of engagement for lawyers and help maintain the integrity of the legal profession.

In July 2020, the American Bar Association released the 2020 ABA Profile of the Legal Profession (the profile). The profile includes a compilation of statistics and trends across multiple areas of the legal profession, including demographics, legal deserts, women, and judges. One of the findings of the profile was that people of color are severely underrepresented.

The profile reported that African-Americans comprise just 5 percent of all attorneys—which is the same percentage that was reported 10 years ago. Similarly, 5 percent of all attorneys are Hispanic, 2 percent of all lawyers are Asian, and just 0.4 percent of all attorneys are Native American.

The race and ethnicity demographic statistics reported in the profile demonstrate that the percentage of lawyers who are men and women of color continues to grow slowly, suggesting that the profession of law is not becoming diverse fast enough. The number of lawyers of color has increased by less than 3 percent in the past 10 years. 

What Does All of This Mean?

It means that people of color in the legal profession frequently do not have mentorship or leaders in the law to relate to, look to for guidance, or a safe place within the legal community. The need for affinity bar associations (e.g., National Bar Association, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association, National Native American Bar Association) is even more imperative.

These affinity bar associations can provide young lawyers of color with mentorship and networking opportunities that play a crucial role in how the legal profession increases diversity within its ranks. Most importantly, affinity bar associations play another significant part in a lawyer’s life: a mental check. People often doubt the power of how people around who look like you can play on mental stability and strength.

Diverse lawyers bring a perspective to the law that only they have. As our world grows more and more diverse, it is up to us as lawyers to empower each other to grow and become more diverse in our profession with the world. Historically, the law is slow to change in some aspects while quick to act in others. Diversity is not a time to slow the momentum down but push full steam ahead to more diversity throughout the legal profession.

Lawyers of color in leadership roles encourage other lawyers of color to believe that they can and will reach higher into leadership. Leadership can span law organizations, workplaces, and their communities at large. Diverse bar leaders will help encourage diversity, report legal trends, and advocate for reform.

What Can Local Bar Associations Do to Promote Opportunities for Lawyers of Color?

  • Recruit diverse members. Make a bold plan to increase your diverse membership.
  • Encourage different style events. Have events that attract a diverse pool of members and potential members.
  • Promote diverse membership through diverse leadership. Bar Associations serve as a central point of engagement for lawyers and help maintain the legal profession’s integrity. The importance of local bar associations promoting diversity in their ranks cannot be understated. Local bar associations contribute to the training and mentorship of all lawyers, especially lawyers of color. As diversity continues to take the main stage in employment recruitment efforts, local bar associations must adapt to ensure lawyers have the tools and support necessary to grow.
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Linton Clarke III

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Linton Clarke III (he/his) is a tax attorney and business law professor in Houston, Texas.