Recently, I received my new American Bar Association card in the mail. This is what the envelope looked like:
Notice anything? To me, the first thing that stuck out was the transparent effort to show the “right” mix of people on this envelope. There are 7 women and 6 men; 4 of the women appear to fit the “minority” classification, as do three of the men. There appears to be a perfect demographic mix on the cover. The only problem is, this demographic mix is no where near the actual demographic mix of the legal profession. Yes, there are obviously minorities and women that have succeeded in the legal profession, but they are plainly not equally represented within the profession.
Diversity is an important goal, but doesn’t this envelope come off as patronizing and misleading? Why even bother with the faces at all? It just looks like the ABA is trying too hard to present the legal profession as something that its not at this point. This also reminds me of a relatively embarrassing moment for University of Wisconsin that occurred a number of years ago. As some of you may recall, the University got into trouble for photoshopping a black student into a “sea of white faces” on the cover of an undergraduate application booklet. See here.
I don’t know about other people, but efforts like the the ABA envelope and the Wisconsin brochure come off, at a minimum, as insulting, deceptive, and contrary to the whole point of promoting diversity. But could they also be actionable? Most states have some sort of false or deceptive advertising statutes which allow various forms of actions that do not necessarily require actual damages to the individual bringing the suit. Could misrepresenting the diversity of your organization lead to litigation?
Frankly, I don’t think the world needs anymore litigation and I’m certainly not advocating for litigation in this post. However, as a purely intellectual exercise, I could imagine a circumstance where a claim could be brought under one of these statutes. How about you?