Diversity: How Does the Legal Profession Measure Up?

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Can the legal profession compete with other professions in the United States when it comes to diversity?

According to the Current Population Survey (CPS), a survey of American households sponsored jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the legal profession’s diversity and inclusion initiative is lacking. (CPS is a monthly survey of households that provides a comprehensive body of data on the labor force, employment, unemployment, persons not in the labor force, hours of work, earnings, and other demographic and labor force characteristics.)

Moreover, when compared to other top-paying professions in the United States, the “rainmakers” of America’s legal profession are making dollars rain. But when it comes to minority representation, we need more rain!

A CNBC article entitled, “America’s Highest Paying Jobs 2012,” listed lawyers below doctors and dentists with regard to average salary, and while each of the three salaries may still be quite attractive to undergraduates or those interested in a second career, the legal profession ranks last for minority representation as a whole. According to the CPS, 28 percent of the 618,000 doctors employed in America are minorities, 17 percent of the 101,400 dentists employed are minorities, and only 12 percent of the 570,950 lawyers employed are minorities. Simply put, the minority percentages provided in the CPS for lawyers is less than inviting to other minorities who may be interested in the practice of law.

As a result of the ever-changing global economy, the need for diversity in the legal profession is at an all-time high, but with low minority representation, we may be losing out to our biggest professional competitors. Likewise, by lacking representation of African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics, up-and-coming talent stand the risk of joining a profession that lacks minority sponsorship opportunities and minority mentorship availability. Moreover, potential candidates run the risk of diving in to a career where the road to “equity” may be the road less traveled and, in many cases, may be missing the road altogether.

Consequently, based on the recent data supplied in the CPS, one can reasonably conclude that becoming a lawyer still may not be the profession college graduates and those seeking a second career gravitate to when thinking about long-term careers. These conclusions, along with many others, are just the type of red flags law firm diversity and inclusion professionals have been bringing to the forefront for years.

The table below is a comparison of America’s highest paying jobs and the percentage of minority representation in those jobs: 

No.

Title

Average Salary

No. Currently Employed

% of African American/Black

% of Asian

% of Hispanic/Latino

1

Doctors and Surgeons

$168,650-  $234,950

618,000

5.3

16.1

6.6

2

Orthodontists and Dentists

$161,750-  $204,670

101,400

1.0

11.0

5.8

3

Lawyers

$130,490

570,950

5.3

4.2

3.2

Ogletree Deakins, one of the nations’ leading labor and employment law firms, is among the short list of large law firms in America that employs diversity and inclusion professionals to address red flags that affect recruitment, retention, and advancement of its attorneys. This includes recruiting and retaining attorneys who are also: women; racially diverse; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT); and disabled.

To make an impact in this area, the entire legal profession must work to raise the percentage of minorities in the profession so it can be in a position to compete with the other top-paying professions in America. The rainmakers at Ogletree Deakins understand their position as leaders and the important role firms must take in working toward a more inclusive profession, both internally and externally.

In 2011, for the first time in Ogletree Deakins’ history, the firm took the initiative to employ a five-member department whose primary focus is to address the specific needs of every attorney at the firm. The team is led by Michelle Wimes, Esq., the firm’s full-time Professional Development and Inclusion Director, who reports directly to the Managing Shareholder and the Board of Directors. She provides visionary and strategic leadership to the Inclusion Manager, an expanded Inclusion team, a newly re-constructed Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, the Director of Attorney Recruiting and Retention, the Office Managing Shareholders, and the practice group leaders at the firm. The firm recognizes the advantages that having a Professional Development and Inclusion department brings in the areas of recruiting, retention, and advancement.

In conclusion, with surveys such as the CPS, law firms will have the opportunity to reevaluate themselves and consider ways to make the legal profession equally competitive to other top-paying professions in America.

Topics:  Bureau of Labor Statistics, Diversity

Published In: Professional Practice Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. | Attorney Advertising

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