New Results From American Bar Foundation Research

Volume 40 Number 4


About the Author

Hon. Bernice B. Donald is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She is the president of the American Bar Foundation, the first African American to serve in that position

Law Practice Magazine | July/August 2014 | The Annual Big Ideas IssueTHE AMERICAN BAR FOUNDATION (ABF), founded in 1952 by the American Bar Association (ABA), continues to serve the bar, the legal education system and the larger community by bringing first-class research to bear upon critical issues facing the legal profession and society at large. By conducting projects of unmatched scale, quality and methodological rigor on topics of fundamental and current interest, ABF research is at the forefront of policy-relevant research on law, and ABF researchers are widely recognized as thought leaders in their respective specialties.

The After the JD study is one example of the rigorous empirical research the ABF conducts. It follows a representative national cohort of lawyers who passed the bar in the year 2000 through 12 subsequent years of their careers. Lawyers were surveyed three years, seven years and 12 years into their careers. The study, which is unlike any other study of new lawyers, has produced significant findings for the legal profession. For instance, it shows that:

New Results From American Bar Foundation Research

Another area of significant work for the ABF is research on diversity and equal justice. In 2011 the ABF established the Research Group on Legal Diversity. This group brings together ABF scholars as well as practitioners and experts at other institutions to study diversity-related issues within the legal profession. Early findings from the work of the group indicate:

  • The most powerful partners in law firms control most of the allocation of work assignments and hours to associates. White males remain dominant in these roles and tend to favor other white males in allocation.
  • The proportion of women and people of color among a law firm’s partners has a greater impact on hiring, retention and promotion than the presence of formal mentoring programs.
  • Appeals to legal mandates for diversity can be more influential than appeals to the business rationale among managers.
  • Compared to their white counterparts, lawyers of color face considerable hurdles in acquiring new jobs in the event of firm dissolution.
  • Attorneys of color are more likely to stay at law firms when they receive effective mentoring and socialize with partners.

In addition to studies on the legal profession, ABF scholars are studying how civil juries work; how advance medical directives are used in medical decision-making; how the dynamics of employment discrimination litigation frustrates parties; what services are available, on a state-by-state basis, to assist the U.S. public in accessing civil justice; and how incarceration of parents impacts their children and those in the communities in which they live.

For 26 years, the ABF has also contributed to efforts to promote diversity in the legal profession and academia. Through its Montgomery Summer Research Diversity Fellowship Program, the ABF hosts four outstanding undergraduate students each summer for an internship at the ABF that allows them the opportunity to explore the field of sociolegal research and observe law practice in the private and public sector. Since 1988, 106 undergraduates have participated in the program.

Over 60 years ago, the ABA recognized the importance of high-caliber empirical research to the legal profession. The scholars of the ABF are honored to continue the tradition of service to the organized bar and the academy by conducting research of unmatched scale and quality on the most pressing issues facing the legal system in the U.S. and the world. For further information about the ABF’s work, please visit our website at



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