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by Vault Law Editors | August 11, 2010


Earlier this week, I posted the first half of an interview with Carolyn Lamm, outgoing president of the American Bar Association and a partner in the international arbitration group at White & Case. Ms. Lamm was the luncheon keynote speaker at the recent Vault/MCCA Legal Diversity Career Fair, where she sat down with me to discuss the state of diversity in the legal profession.

In the first part of our conversation, Ms. Lamm addressed some of the obstacles to increasing diversity, noting the limited numbers of women and especially minority lawyers within the upper echelons of the profession, as well as the impact that the recession has had on the recruitment and retention of diverse attorneys. In this concluding section, she highlights areas in which progress has been made, as well as initiatives through which the ABA and others are advancing diversity objectives.

VAULT: Where are you seeing the most improvements?

Both the quantity and quality of pipeline diversity programs have improved in recent years. The ABA, in collaboration with the Law School Admission Council, has an online Pipeline Diversity Directory. In the past year, the number of entries in the directory has almost doubled and it now includes over 400 programs across the country that work to improve diversity in the educational pipeline to our profession, such as the judicial clerkship program.

Collaboration is another area of noted improvement. More firms, bar associations, law schools, corporate law departments and other groups are pooling their resources and building partnerships to address diversity and inclusion.

VAULT: Tell us about some of the ABA’s diversity initiatives and goals.

Nearly all entities throughout the ABA work to foster greater diversity in the legal profession. The ABA’s Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity is a centralized resource for many of these activities. Within the Diversity Center, there are three groups that each addresses a distinct area:

  • The Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession serves lawyers and judges in the legal profession;

  • The Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice addresses social justice issues; and

  • The Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline deals with pipeline diversity matters.

In addition, the Commission on Women in the Profession works to secure the full and equal participation of women in the ABA, the legal profession and the justice system. The Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law addresses disability-related public policy, disability law, and the professional needs of lawyers and law students with disabilities. The Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity seeks to secure for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons full and equal access to and participation in the ABA, the legal profession and the justice system.

This year I appointed a Presidential Commission on Diversity, which produced the "Next Steps" monograph. The report gives recommendations for next steps to increase diversity in the different sectors of the legal profession, recognizing the different challenges within each one: law firms and corporations, the judiciary and government, law schools and the academy, and bar associations. The commission is working with the ABA’s existing efforts to provide practical resources and guidance for women lawyers, lawyers of color, disabled lawyers, and lawyers of differing sexual orientations and gender identities to help pierce the glass ceiling. Central to the commission’s efforts is a series of distance-learning CLE programs to help diverse lawyers advance their legal careers. The programs are available on the ABA website as podcasts.

VAULT: What do you think about the reporting of diversity metrics and rankings, such as the Vault/MCCA Diversity Survey and Vault’s Diversity Rankings, as a means of encouraging law firms to step up their commitment to hiring, retaining and promoting diverse attorneys?

It can be an effective tool if it is used properly and in conjunction with other tools and incentives, and if it is transparently done. If reporting on diversity metrics or rankings is used only to prod and push law firms to engage in diversity efforts, those efforts will not be sustainable. But we must know the statistics in order to know where we are and where to devote resources in order to move forward. If we can help more firms understand the value diversity brings to every aspect of their operations, metrics and rankings will become a welcome opportunity to showcase how well they are doing with hiring, retention and promotion of diverse attorneys.

VAULT: How do diversity-focused events like this career fair help advance diversity objectives?

So much of hiring involves networking and word-of-mouth referrals—hardly just help wanted ads. In such a difficult job market, it is great to bring excellent candidates together with organizations that want to hire from diverse candidate pools. It’s important for employees and employers to get out there, network and explore career options—face to face whenever possible. Events such as these are especially useful when employers are hiring out of a regular recruiting schedule. But even if such leads don’t lead directly to job placements, they form the basis of career exploration and ideas that can, and do, produce results.

VAULT: What will success look like?

A diverse profession that reflects our community. A diverse legal profession is more just, productive and intelligent, because diversity often leads to better questions, analyses, processes and solutions. We are committed to see a Supreme Court that reflects our population and a profession in which each lawyer, no matter what their gender, racial or ethnic background, sexual orientation or disability, has the opportunity to achieve all they are capable of.

The only way we will see success is if our profession is a true reflection of our communities—even if it’s one person in one position at a time.

- posted by vera


Filed Under: Law

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